Please note: A number of imperative details have been excluded from the article in an effort to protect the privacy of the victims due to both their age and the nature of the offenses. This has long been the policy of TGV based on reporting recommendations from the National Alliance to End Sexual Assault Violence regarding privacy superseding newsworthiness.
A jury found an Effingham County man guilty of a number of sex offenses involving three minors after deliberating for just twenty-three minutes.
The verdicts followed the two-day trial of Zachary Robert Haddock which nearly derailed with a mistrial Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities opened an investigation into Haddock in 2020 after at least one victim made a report of sexual contact with Haddock.
In January 2021, police charged him with a misdemeanor offense of Statutory Rape, but an expanded investigation by the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office and the Rincon Police Department yielded additional evidence and victims.
Authorities contended that Haddock, who worked at a vape shop in Rincon, had forcible sexual contact with at least three minor females over an eleven month period beginning in December 2019.
Over the course of parallel investigations by the two agencies, authorities interviewed Haddock, obtained search warrants for his blood, conducted forensic extractions and downloads of his phone, and spoke with a handful of witnesses. Investigators also used a search warrant to obtain photographic evidence that corroborated statements made by the victims.
Most notably, Haddock offered a handful of partial confessions to investigators during recorded interviews. A jury, however, would later be barred from viewing most of those statements.
The misdemeanor case bound over to Superior Court and arrest warrants were sought for Haddock in April 2021. He was denied a bond and additional charges were added later that month. Ultimately, Haddock was indicted on seven felony counts in June 2021. His charges included two counts of Rape, three counts of Child Molestation, Aggravated Child Molestation, and Burglary in the 1st degree.
In Georgia, the age of consent for sex is sixteen.
- Statutory Rape is a misdemeanor when a 16 to 18-year-old person engages in sexual intercourse with a 14 or 15-year-old person, so long as no more than four years is between the two parties.
- Rape is carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.
- Child Molestation is any immoral or indecent act TO or IN THE PRESENCE OF or WITH any child under the age of 16 years with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the person
- Aggravated Child Molestation is child molestation with physical injury to the child OR involving an act of sodomy.
During this week’s trial, ADA Matt Breedon spent a day and a half presenting evidence which corroborated the testimony of the victims. The evidence included:
- Forensic interviews with the victims,
- Law enforcement interviews with the defendant,
- A transcript of a pretrial proceeding, at which time the defendant testified and made admissions,
- medical records of victims and the defendant,
- SnapChat messages and screenshots,
- Testimony from Sgt John Bradley of the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Larry Harris of the Rincon Police Department, and Lieutenant Abby Brown, now of the Port Wentworth Police Department but an ECSO investigator at the time of the investigation
Prosecutors also presented transcripts from a pre-trial proceeding, at which time Haddock admitted to having a relationship with another underage female when he was eighteen. In that pre-trial proceeding, Haddock testified under oath that he did not view kissing as ‘sexual contact.’
Request for Directed Verdict
When the state rested, Haddock’s attorney, Craig Bonnell of Rincon, asked the court to issue a directed verdict on all seven counts. Bonnell contended that the state had not met its burden beyond a reasonable doubt. A directed verdict is a ruling entered by a judge after determining that there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to reach a different conclusion.
Bonnell also made a specific motion for a directed verdict on Count 4: Aggravated Child Molestation. He claimed no evidence was presented to support the charge. ADA Matt Breedon conceded that Count 4 was not supported by the evidence admitted this far but asked the judge to defer ruling on the charge until after the defense presented its case. Judge Bennett denied the motion for a directed verdict on all charges but Agg. Child Molestation.
Concerns of a Tainted Jury
The trial nearly derailed Wednesday afternoon because of evidence presented by the state during cross examination of Haddock’s mother.
Rebecca Haddock testified to the time period her son lived in the family home in 2020. On cross examination, ADA Breedon pressed Haddock on her timeline and her credibility. He then announced the state’s intent to publish an exhibit for the jury involving audio of a jail call that was placed Tuesday evening, one night prior.
The audio played for approximately 20 seconds, with time for the jury to hear who made the call and to hear Rebecca Haddock answering and telling her son that she was at a restaurant. Zachary Haddock then mentioned that he was ‘put in a bulletproof vest.’
It was then that Judge Bennett asked to stop the tape immediately and to excuse the jury from the room.
“The jury is not supposed to know that the defendant is in jail,” Bennett said. Prosecutors agreed, but said case law permits jail calls when the discussion is pertinent to the case.
Bennett replied that the court’s concern was about the mention of the vest and whether or not the jury had just been tainted in two ways.
Defense counsel told the Court that there was no objection initially because of the case law on jail calls, but that he was equally concerned about the mention of the vest. “I’m hoping they can just…cut to the chase,” he said, referencing a fast forward of the file.
“Sure, Sure. I can do that,” Breedon replied.
Judge Bennett, however, was not convinced. “I don’t know that the court can cut to the chase. I’ve got to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial and, if convicted, it could be an issue on appeal or habeas,” he said. Bennett immediately left the bench for a recess, stating he needed time to review the relevant case law.
After 27 minutes, Bennett returned to the bench with the jury still in the deliberation room.
“State 18 was admitted without defense objection and in the process of the exhibit being published by state, two matters occurred: One, an inmate call from the defendant to his mother, Mrs. Haddock, who was on the stand. Secondly, at the very beginning of the tape, there was a discussion, a statement made by the defendant to his mother that he was wearing a bulletproof vest. At that point, I excused the jury because I did not want them to hear anymore about being in jail or a restraint device. There was no objection made by Mr. Bonnell, but there doesn’t have to be. The court has an obligation to see the case is tried fairly and without error,” Bennett said in summarizing the events prior to the recess.
Bennett said he believed the statements made were ‘highly prejudicial,’ and that prior to the exhibit being introduced, the jury did not have any knowledge that the defendant was in jail or wearing a very thin taser vest.
Citing a number of cases in Georgia, Breedon said that evidence that an accused is in jail does not speak to the character of the defendant. “The harm is trying to let a jury know someone is in custody if you don’t have to,” he told the court.
“There is minimal, if no…I would say no error here,” Breedon said.
Bonnell reiterated that he didn’t object to the introduction of the call but had concerns about the mention of the vest.
“Mr. Breedon and I talked about it, if the court moves forward, he could move forward in the tape. His purpose in playing the tape is not really related to Mr. Haddock, but a different matter. I don’t think it would be appropriate to play the whole call, and at this point, I need to be concerned about what has been played to the jury so far,” Bonnell said.
Bennett suggested striking the cross examination in its entirety, to which Breedon said he ‘did not understand.’
“I don’t know how you uncrack an egg, ” Bennett said. “I don’t know how you unhear that he’s in jail or in a taser vest….How many straws does it take before the camel’s back is broken?”
Bonnell rose and said that after speaking with the defendant, he would like to ask for the court to order a mistrial.
That prompted Breedon to object, citing case law about the timeliness of an objection for the purposes of seeking a mistrial. Ultimately, Bennett denied the motion for a mistrial and said he would direct the jury to strike the cross examination from the introduction of the jail audio forward. The recording was also barred from further admission into evidence or general reference.
After almost an hour, the jury returned to the courtroom and the trial resumed.
Defendant Takes the Stand
At 3:30 p.m, Haddock took the stand. He told the jury that the allegations were made because the girls were “angry, jealous, spiteful “ and showing ‘vindictiveness.’
Haddock then detailed how a woman contacted him incessantly for three years while he was in high school, an experience he said was traumatic. Beginning at age 14, he said a “female stalker” pursued him and demanded his attention. When he blocked her, he said, she claimed he raped her, got her pregnant, and -in a fit of rage- caused an abortion. That prompted an arrest and investigation of him before it was determined there was not enough evidence. Haddock said he was told by authorities that they didn’t have what they needed to prove it was him, but ‘they were going to get him’ at some point, implying the entire investigation was a sham.
Haddock testified that it was the girls who approached him and ultimately demonstrated obsessive behavior. That triggered his PTSD from the stalking incident, so he withdrew from even being friendly with them and that is what prompted the accusations. Haddock said he supplied vape products to the underage girls and his cessation meant they no longer had access.
Defense counsel ultimately led Haddock down a line of questioning to conclude that Haddock’s greatest mistake was befriending the young girls.
ADA Breedon then went on to cross examine Haddock for nearly an hour. He challenged the defendant on his evolving story, his claims that the girls pursued him, his use of alcohol and drugs, and his sexual encounters. While the unabating questions did not appear to rattle Haddock, he routinely answered with, “I don’t understand the question” or didn’t answer at all.
Having no additional witnesses, the defense rested just before 5:00 p.m. Attorneys began closing statements at 6:00 p.m and following a dinner break and jury instructions, jurors began deliberations at 8:40 p.m.
Ahead of the trial defense counsel filed motions to exclude a portion of the admissions made by Haddock because an investigator “provided legal advice” when he told Haddock that an act was ‘no big deal.’
Specifically, ECSO Sgt. John Bradley said:
“Zach, like I told you the other day, if you had sex with these girls you had sex with them. They’re claiming [redacted] is claiming rape. If you did, you did, if you had consensual sex, you had consensual sex. But I don’t need to find any evidence down the road then you’ve locked yourself into a statement you’ve never had sex with her for a vape. That’s gonna make it look bad. If you had consensual sex with the girl then you had consensual sex with her that’s no big deal, it’s not rape.”
Judge Bennett granted this motion and video interviews with Haddock were subsequently redacted when played for the jury. The jury, however, did not need those admissions to make a decision.
After twenty-three minutes of the deliberations, the jury announced that it had unanimous verdicts.
Haddock, who had no family or friends in the courtroom at the time, was stoic as the clerk read off ‘Guilty’ verdicts on every count. The victims and their families were visibly emotional.
Judge Bennett announced that Haddock will be sentenced on February 28 and remanded him to the custody of the jail until that time. Each Rape conviction carries a sentence of “up to life” in prison while each count of Child Molestation carries a sentence of up to twenty years. The Burglary charge also carries a 1-20 year sentence.
Two more trials are slated to begin next week in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit. Judge Peed will preside over the State v. Ashlyn Griffin case while Judge Brantley of Cobb County will preside over State v. Paul Costley.