Houston & Peach

Former Centerville salon owner found guilty of molesting, exploiting boys

PERRY -- Matthew Caleb Pierce, a hair stylist and former Centerville salon owner, was found guilty Thursday of molesting two teenage boys and sexually exploiting a third in the summer of 2011.

A Houston County jury deliberated about an hour before a lunch recess and returned its verdict just a few minutes after resuming.

Pierce, 35, was found guilty on all 14 counts against him except one. Several of the counts he was convicted of were aggravated child molestation, which carries a minimum sentence of 25 years to a maximum of life in prison.

“We appreciate the verdict of the jury,” Assistant District Attorney Clif Woody said. “We know it was a very difficult case for them to listen to.”

Pierce was taken directly into custody and will be sentenced later.

His attorney, Franklin J. Hogue of Macon, said he is in shock.

“It’s hard to get your mind around the fact that a jury just found you guilty of various felony crimes,” Hogue said. “He maintains his innocence, but he’s in shock.”

Pierce is expected to appeal the verdict.

When he took the witness stand Wednesday, Pierce told jurors that the teenagers, all 14 years old at the time, made up the stories against him to avoid getting into trouble.

However, jurors found Pierce guilty of four counts of aggravated child molestation, one count of child molestation and one count of sexual battery for engaging in sex acts with the one teenager while the boy was under the influence of alcohol that Pierce gave him.

Pierce was also found guilty of two counts of aggravated child molestation, one count of child molestation, one count of sexual battery and two counts of distribution of prescription drugs. The drugs were the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and the pain medication Dilaudid.

Those counts related to engaging in sex acts with another teenager who was under the influence of prescription drugs that Pierce gave him. The boy engaged in the sex acts in exchange for more of the prescription drugs.

Pierce was also convicted of one count of sexual exploitation of a child for obtaining a texted photo of third teenager’s penis. Pierce was found not guilty of one count of child molestation in connection to the third teenager.

During closing arguments, Hogue argued that the prosecution’s case was based solely on the word of teenage boys, and that prosecutors failed to provide any corroborating evidence.

But Woody told jurors that the case boiled down to whom they believe: the testimony of the teenagers or the testimony of Pierce.

Woody noted that even if jurors believed the defense’s position that one of the boys made up his story about Pierce giving him prescription drugs for sex acts to avoid prosecution in Juvenile Curt, the other teenagers independently alleged similar actions against Pierce.

The other teenagers were questioned after the boy was found with the drugs, and the teenagers would not have had the opportunity to talk before each one was interviewed, Woody said. The fact that their stories were similar would indicate that all are telling the truth, he argued.

Woody also focused on a police video of the teenager who allegedly spent the night with Pierce that was played for jurors. Woody told jurors that was not an act.

Hogue tried to keep the jury from seeing the video. He argued it violated Pierce’s right to confront his accusers because he could not question a video. On the witness stand, the teenager, now 18, said he could not remember. Woody told jurors the teenager could not remember because he was still traumatized.

Woody also pointed to Pierce’s statement that he and a female friend of his were asleep in his bed the night the teenager allegedly spent the night with him. The prosecutor questioned why the defense did not call this woman to testify and argued that she was not called because she wasn’t there -- or didn’t exist.

Hogue also complained to jurors of a missing witness. He wanted to know why the prosecution didn’t call Pierce’s roommate, also a female, who had been on the state’s original witness list.

But Woody also asked jurors why the defense didn’t subpoena the roommate to testify.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.