For the second time this week, a Coweta County jury convicted a man for molesting a child under the age of 16 years old.
Emmett David Bennett, 27, of Locust Grove was found guilty on two counts of aggravated child molestation, one count of child molestation, one count of statutory rape and one count of aggravated sodomy.
Presiding Superior Court Judge Travis Sakrison sentenced Bennett to serve 25 years in prison. He’ll also spend the rest of his life on probation and be a registered sex offender.
According to Lt. Jason Fetner with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office, Bennett began the illicit activity in November 2015 when he moved into the Senoia home of a friend whose 15-year-old child also lived in the house.
Fetner said in April of 2016, the child’s mother noticed some suspicious behavior between Bennett and the teen.
The mother checked the girl’s phone and found dozens of text messages between the teen and a person named “Emily.” When the mother dialed the number for “Emily,” she discovered it was really Bennett, Fetner said.
The woman then ordered Bennett out of the house and filed a report with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office.
Fetner said when he conducted a forensic interview with the victim, she initially denied any sexual misconduct between herself and Bennett.
Bennett reportedly told the investigator the pair “kissed once and he pushed her away,” and later claimed the teen “had a crush on him.”
Fetner continued to conduct interviews with friends of the victim. Eventually, one friend admitted Bennett was having an inappropriate relationship with the girl.
The victim, who moved to Fayette County to live with relatives, would regularly sneak Bennett into the home, according to Fetner.
The CCSO investigator said Bennett also provided the girl with a “burner phone” so they could communicate without getting caught.
“They had a protocol in place, where she would destroy the burner phone, and any other evidence, if they thought people were on to them,” Fetner said.
A search of the home uncovered the phone under a bathroom sink. However, after deputies removed the phone, the teen grabbed the device and broke it, Fetner said.
The CCSO investigator sent the phone to the Secret Service so they could extract messages from it.
Investigators also seized a set of bed sheets during the execution of the search warrant that later were confirmed to have Bennett’s DNA on them, Fetner said.
The suspect was arrested in Pike County after allegedly being tipped off by the victim that law enforcement officers were looking for him.
Bennett also faced charges in Fayette County, pleading guilty to two counts of statutory rape in October in 2017. He was sentenced to 30 years to serve 20 years in prison.
Bennett faced similar charges in Coweta County and was returned for trial.
The suspect reportedly told the court he believed by pleading guilty to the charges in Fayette County he would be absolved of the charges against him in Coweta County, said Fetner.
He was wrong.
The jury deliberated for less than three hours and delivered a guilty verdict on all charges against Bennett.
The man was returned to prison.
“If it was not for the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, the Secret Service and the Coweta County District Attorney’s office actively pursuing this case, we would not have been able to bring the victim justice,” Fetner said.
The CCSO investigator said the victim finally admitted Bennett had inappropriately touched her.
“He groomed her,” Fetner said. “In almost every instance of child sexual abuse, there is the presence of grooming. It’s a built-in component of the predator’s process. I always caution parents – if you’re not connected and talking to your children, someone else is. There are people out there who are willing to take advantage of children, especially online.”
Bennett was one of two people convicted of child molestation last week.
A Coweta County Jury also found William Tant, 48, guilty of sexually abusing and molesting a relative who lived in his home.
Tant, who had a prior conviction in 1992 for child molestation, was sentenced to two life sentences plus 100 years behind bars by presiding Superior Court Judge Emory Palmer.