RINGGOLD, Ga. - A jury agreed with prosecutors Wednesday evening: A falsified Facebook photo is the same as lying to the cops.
After three days of trial, the jury in Catoosa County Superior Court found Davida Kaye Caylor, 33, guilty of making false statements as the result of a picture her son uploaded online last year. The jury also found her guilty of two crimes in connection with the events of her arrest: tampering with evidence and obstructing an officer.
In February 2013, Caylor told the Sheriff's Office that Heritage High School Assistant Principal Eric Beagles slammed her son's right hand on a desk, causing a bruise. The day of the incident, 15-year-old Gregory Aaron Black posted a photo on Facebook that he said was his hand.
The picture showed a deep bruise. Part of his hand was blue, the knuckles swollen and red. Black tagged Caylor in the picture online. Later, Caylor also posted the photo with the comment: "What happened to my child, no kid deserves."
But, after Caylor filed a complaint against Beagles, investigators determined that the picture was not actually Black's hand -- it was either Photoshopped, or it was a photo of someone else's hand. At the same time, Detective Freddie Roden testified that Caylor did not actually give him that photo, nor did she tell him the photo was real, nor did Roden ever question her about the photo.
Still, the picture ended up in a WRCB-TV report the day after the incident, and Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Chris Arnt argued that the presence of the picture was Caylor's attempt to frame Beagles.
After the jury announced its verdict Wednesday, Arnt credited the testimony of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner Lora Darrisaw, who said on the stand Tuesday that the picture in question seemed to be a fake.
The picture showed a deep bruise, while other photos taken by Caylor and Roden days later did not show this type of injury. Darrisaw said that, if anything, the bruise should have gotten more severe in the days after the injury. Caylor's attorney, Richard Murray, countered that the lighting in the room and other factors could have influenced how dark the picture appeared.
On Wednesday, Arnt said he was not surprised by the jury's decision.
"The evidence was pretty much what we expected it to be," he said.
Judge Kristina Cook Graham gave Murray about two weeks to prepare for a sentencing trial. All three crimes against Caylor are felonies. But, until the sentencing hearing, she will remain out of jail.
Caylor declined to comment after the trial, except to say, "God's still in control."
About 15 minutes after hearing the verdict, Caylor's friends and family stood on the steps outside the courthouse. Her children and mother held each other and cried. Her husband then walked away across Nashville Street, shouting to Caylor that he couldn't stand to be near the courthouse any longer after the three-day trial.
Murray consulted the family about what will happen next. He says he expects to appeal the case. In particular, the attorney questioned whether the jury was competent. The group needed about 30 minutes to reach a verdict.
"I was disturbed that none of them took any notes during the trial," he said. "There were a lot of facts, a lot of testimonies to follow. ... That's disappointing."
Caylor's initial arrest stemmed from the confrontation between Beagles and Black in Beagles' office. On Feb. 6, 2013, Beagles told the freshman that he would receive a suspension for something he said in the lunchroom. Black then told the principal he was going to call his father and reached for Beagles' phone.
Then, Black said, Beagles grabbed his hand, twisted it and slammed it on the desk. For his part, Beagles says that he firmly set the phone back down on its receiver when Black grabbed it, and that the boy's fingers might have gotten caught between the phone and the base.
Either way, Black then went to the school nurse, who documented that knuckles on three fingers were swollen. An hour later, the nurse said the swelling had gotten worse. Then, a Hutcheson Medical Center doctor noted that Black's hand was bruised and put two fingers in a splint.
But, Arnt told the jury Wednesday, the photo Black posted online was misleading. The photo made it look as though Beagles severely abused the boy, something Arnt said never happened.
The defense pointed to a conversation between Caylor and Heritage High School Principal Ronnie Bradford that happened five days after the incident. Bradford told Caylor that Beagles' actions were inappropriate, that Beagles wanted to apologize to the family.
Arnt countered that this was not Beagles admitting any wrongdoing. The prosecutor told the jury this was a product of "today's society," when administrators aren't even allowed to touch students.
"Twenty years ago," Arnt said, "you would have gotten a paddling. Then, your parents would have paddled you, too."
The guilty verdict came a day after Roden testified that investigators found no forensic evidence proving the photo had been altered, that they found no phone applications that would allowed someone to change the picture, and that Roden himself never asked Caylor about the picture.
In his closing argument, Arnt showed the jury a series of pictures. First, he showed the photo in question, the photo that shows a deep, blue bruise.
"This is the sort of thing that gets someone arrested for cruelty to children," he said, referring Caylor's accusations of Beagles.
Then, Arnt showed them pictures taken by Caylor and Roden. These pictures showed swelling and a slight bruise on Black's middle finger.
"Even if this is from Mr. Beagles slamming a child's hand on the desk," Arnt told the jury, "this is a matter for the children and the school."
Conact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.