Jurors were about to decide their son’s fate Thursday morning as Walter and Patricia Anthony sat on a front-row bench in Bibb County Superior Court.
Closing arguments wrapped up and the judge sent the jury to deliberate.
But the couple’s son, Jermaine Bernard Anthony — on trial for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old girl two years ago — was nowhere to be found.
Ordinarily, Jermaine Anthony, 39, would have been sitting at the defense table, where all defendants do, on the right side of wood-paneled, gray-carpeted Courtroom B — 10 feet or so away from where his folks sat.
But Jermaine Anthony, who was out of jail on bond while awaiting trial, had disappeared.
He was in court for jury selection Monday and also for the first day of testimony on Tuesday, when his alleged victim spoke of a day in July 2016 when she says Jermaine Anthony lured her and a friend in a window of his Macon apartment.
At the end of Tuesday’s proceedings, Anthony told his mother he would see her in the morning.
But he never showed up for court Wednesday. He wasn’t there Thursday either.
The law doesn’t require that a defendant be present once a trial has begun. Though it is rare, accused criminals are from time to time tried in absentia.
Even so, on Wednesday, Anthony’s parents filed a missing-persons report. They called his cellphone repeatedly. Their calls went straight to voicemail.
“We’re concerned for his whereabouts,” Walter Anthony, 61, told a Telegraph reporter outside the courtroom. “We’re worried something bad happened.”
Jermaine Anthony, who had medical problems and was unemployed, had been living in southwest Macon’s Bloomfield area. In the past, for more than a dozen years, he worked as a gravedigger.
His father said he hadn’t missed a single court appearance in the more than 24 months since his arrest.
Prosecutors at trial said Jermaine Anthony touched his alleged victim’s buttocks for sexual gratification.
“He clearly targets children,” assistant Bibb district attorney Dorothy Hull told the jury in her closing remarks.
Hull said Jermaine Anthony tried to befriend the girl and showed the child images of Barbie clothes on his computer tablet.
Patricia Anthony, however, said her son “felt confident” that he would be exonerated.
“He doesn’t know why somebody would lie on him,” she said.
“We don’t know if he disappeared or if something happened to him,” she went on. “This is not like him. ... He would not miss a day coming here.”
Walter Anthony feared the worst, foul play in particular.
Patricia Anthony worried that her son may have killed himself.
As noon approached Thursday, half an hour or so into the jury’s deliberations, word of Jermaine Anthony’s whereabouts reached the courthouse.
He was dead.
A man who found his body near a ball field in a park off Lions Place near Rocky Creek Road about 11 a.m. said Anthony had a gunshot wound to the head, the victim of apparent suicide. Officials later said his body had probably been there several hours.
At the courthouse, a sheriff’s deputy broke the news to Walter and Patricia Anthony in a glass meeting room where lawyers often confer with clients.
The jury had by then been dismissed for lunch, not told of the development.
When it returned, Judge Howard Z. Simms declared a mistrial.
Telegraph writer Liz Fabian contributed to this report.