TAMPA — Last week, the 16-year-old girl had the courage to testify about all the times John Jerome Speights Jr. raped her, about the fear she felt when he told her to keep quiet, about the day she learned she would have his baby.
Speights wasn't there to hear it. The man on bail left the courtroom to use the bathroom that morning and never returned. A jury convicted him anyway.
The rapist remains on the loose.
And the girl is scared.
"He just needs to be caught," she told the St. Petersburg Times on Thursday.
A Hillsborough County sheriff's detective says that's his No. 1 priority.
"We think he's dangerous now," Detective Marvin Johnson said. "He's facing a lot of time in jail. We really need to grab him before he gets so far in the ground that he gets really hidden. …
"We are concerned with this victim and any other victims that are out there," he said. "We need to get him off the street."
Johnson says he and at least 30 other members of the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force are working in Tampa and beyond to find Speights, 45.
They're familiar with him.
When he was initially charged with the rapes, he fled and they tracked him down.
The longtime felon has been arrested 28 times in Florida on charges that include battery, bigamy, aggravated assault, domestic violence and cruelty to a child.
The girl, a relative, was staying at his home, where he lived with 14 of his children, when he stirred her from a bunk bed one night, saying he needed to talk, she testified in court last week.
It was August 2006. She was 12. He raped her on the floor of her living room and didn't stop when she said it hurt.
Afterward, she was in the bathroom when he slipped $20 under the door. He told her she couldn't tell anybody.
It happened again on the bunk bed, and again on a lounge chair cushion outside. Once he fondled her while his 6-year-old son slept in the bed.
DNA evidence shows there is a 99.99 percent chance that her 2-year-old boy is his son.
Despite the evidence, some of Speights' relatives have told the girl they didn't want her in the family. A Tampa police detective checks in regularly with the girl's mother to make sure she's okay.
Johnson says he is talking to America's Most Wanted to get Speights' mug shot on national television.
The girl's mother hopes detectives catch Speights soon. She wants to look him in the face when he's sentenced.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.