TAMPA — It took a jury just a half-hour Thursday to find a former Hillsborough County special-needs teacher guilty of multiple counts of sexual battery against a mentally disabled man.
James Frederick Beaver Jr., 54, who once taught disabled children at Mendez Exceptional Center, was also convicted of drug charges related to methamphetamine that police found in his South Tampa apartment.
Sentencing is set for Nov. 1. Guidelines suggest a possible incarceration of about 15 years, though a longer term could be imposed if the judge orders him to serve any of the sentences consecutively.
The guilty verdict brought an abrupt conclusion to the three-day trial. The star witness was the 24-year-old victim, a man described as having the cognitive abilities of a first-grade student.
Prosecutors told jurors the victim was walking near the entrance to a South Tampa apartment complex late on the night of Aug. 14, 2017, when Beaver pulled up beside him in a truck. He invited the younger man back to his apartment, where he gave him food, told him to take a bath, then showed him how to smoke methamphetamine.
The victim testified Tuesday that Beaver committed sex acts on him. Asked if he wanted or gave permission for Beaver to engage in sexual activity with him, he replied repeatedly, "no."
The victim left the apartment the next morning. His mother had reported him missing after he didn't come home the previous evening. A Tampa police officer spotted him and took him home. Later that day, he walked to a convenience store and told a clerk to call 911. It was then that he told police what had happened to him.
He was taken to a crisis center, where nurses conducted a sexual assault investigation. Tests of a urine sample revealed traces of methamphetamine.
Beaver's defense attorneys argued that the sex was consensual, and that no crime occurred.
In a recorded interview played during the trial, Beaver told sex crimes detectives that he had seen the victim walking, thought he might be homeless, and let him come to the apartment to eat and get cleaned up.
He said the victim kept talking about picking up girls. He admitted showing the victim a pornographic video.
Asked by detectives if anything "got heated" or "out of control," Beaver first said no. But when pressed, he said they had gotten naked and engaged in sexual activity.