By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Aaralyn Mills said she had a bittersweet feeling late Thursday afternoon when a Loudoun County jury found her 71-year-old father, Christian minister and former civil rights leader James L. Bevel, guilty of having sex with her in 1990s when she was a teenager.
"It was just a rush of 'Wow. It's pretty much over,' " Mills said yesterday, recalling the moment the verdict was read in Courtroom 2A. Several hours later, the seven-man, five-woman Circuit Court jury decided Bevel should spend 15 years in prison.
Mills, 29, said her father, who organized some of the nation's most storied civil rights marches and was a confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is a pedophile and deserved to go to prison. At the same time, she was sorry it had come to that.
"The real objective would have been for my father to just apologize and to work on this with us as a family," she said in an interview from her home in suburban Maryland. "In life, you pretty much have a right to do what you want to do. But there are consequences to doing some things."
Bevel was convicted of unlawfully committing fornication with his daughter from Oct. 14, 1992, to Oct. 14, 1994, when they lived in Leesburg. Mills was 14 or 15 at the time.
Bevel pleaded not guilty, and he testified that although he had rubbed his daughter's chest, he had never had sex with her because that would have violated his moral law. "You start from A to Z," Bevel said. "If you break the law, you can't get to Z."
The Washington Post does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission. On Thursday, Mills agreed to be named. She was known as Jamese Machado, her former married name, when she filed the incest charge in 2005.
Mills walked into the courtroom Monday holding her newborn daughter, whom she handed to a family member when it was time to testify.
Composed and unemotional, she told a wrenching story about a family headed by a domineering man who would father 16 children through relationships with seven woman. Bevel was one of 16 children himself.
Mills told the jury she was sexually molested by her father about 10 times a year in early childhood, beginning when she was 6.
She said Bevel invited her to watch as he had sex with her mother.
She spoke of a don't-hang-your-hat lifestyle in at least six states and the District, living at times with both parents, at times with one parent, at times alone and at times in communal "clinic houses."
She said Bevel presided over daily 12-hour meetings in these "cultlike" houses, teaching his philosophy of sex, marriage and morality. Open sex and physical violence were the norm, she said.
She testified that she began drinking alcohol at 12 and became an alcoholic. She also smoked marijuana. And she became suicidal. "It was just an intense environment," she told the jury. "You didn't know when people would erupt."
As for sex with her father, she said, it was so routine, "I didn't feel there was necessarily anything wrong with it."
She said she didn't tell anyone because her father had taught her that "society was bad" and that police and school officials were not to be trusted.
But about five years ago, Mills said in the interview yesterday, she began speaking with her siblings about the abuse. She said she learned that at least four of her sisters had been molested by their father. Those discussions led to meetings in 2004 and 2005 at which Bevel was confronted.
Mills said she was motivated to disclose the abuse after her father had a child with his current wife. Along with her siblings, she said she worried he would abuse that child, too.
"We said, 'We know this is a problem, and she shouldn't be in this environment,' " Mills said. "He said, 'I don't have a problem.' But we said, 'Whoa. We know you have a problem.' "
The child now lives with her maternal grandparents, Mills said.
At a meeting outside Selma, Ala., in 2004, family members handed Bevel an affidavit, accusing him of being a pedophile and having sex with Mills. A year later, Mills filed the incest charge in Leesburg because Virginia does not have a statute of limitations for felonies, she said.
Yesterday, Mills said she wasn't surprised by the verdict.
"I thought, you know, once a group of 12 average citizens were presented with that information, that would probably be the result," she said.
Late Thursday afternoon, after the verdict had been read, Bevel -- free on bond -- waited outside the courtroom and shared his philosophies with a dozen friends and family members.
"If you don't forgive, guess what? You're not to be forgiven," he said.
Then the group formed a prayer circle, joining hands with the gray-bearded preacher and speaking of his accomplishments.
"Lord, keep him. He's been a father for so many thousands," said Gwendolyn Webb, a friend of Bevel's from the 1960s. "Lord God . . . he's a foot soldier, and we're ready for the battle. C'mon, baby. We're ready for the war."
Two hours later, after the sentence had been read, Bevel was escorted by deputy sheriffs into a courthouse holding cell.
His public defender has not ruled out an appeal.