A jury of six men and six women returned a verdict of not guilty in the trial of Joe Matthew Estes, better known as Safari Joe.
Estes was charged with rape by instrumentation and lewd molestation involving two girls who were minors at the time of the alleged offenses. He was found not guilty on both counts.
It was alleged that Estes “slightly” inserted his finger in the vagina of one girl (L.B.J.), who was 11 or 12 at the time of the incident, which occurred during the summer of 2006. The alleged incident took place in the cab of Estes’ truck, while L.J. was laying down next to her friend, C.G. The second girl (C.G.), also 11 or 12 at the time, alleged that Estes climbed into her bed at around the same time period and placed his hand down her pajama pants, touching her “private parts.” During the trial, it was revealed that C.G. said she was unsure if it had been a dream or if it really happened.
Assistant District Attorney Marny Hill prosecuted the case. Estes was represented by Attorney Stanley Monroe and Misty Fields of Tulsa.
“This case is about strength and weakness. This case is about the strong preying upon the weak. The loud taking advantage of the quiet. The mighty taking advantage of the meek,” Hill said in her opening statement.
Hill explained that during the summer of 2006, Estes was living with his then girlfriend, Heather Simpson. Simpson had moved in with her three children. She had two sons from her previous marriage and was legal guardian to a daughter (C.G.), born to her ex-husband’s mistress and fathered by her ex-husband. During her relationship with Estes, she gave birth to two sons, both belonging to Estes.
Monroe addressed the jury in his opening statement, calling into question the timing of the allegations.
Monroe said the allegations coincide with a custody dispute between Estes and Simpson regarding their two sons.
“Heather’s new husband called the District Attorney Investigator to prompt an investigation,” Monroe said.
The State called several witnesses to the stand, including both girls, who are now 19-years old.
L.J. testified that the reason she did not come forward sooner was because she had not been ready to address what had allegedly happened to her until last year in counseling.
In addition to the two victims, Hill called two other women to the stand, both giving testimony of incidents involving Estes.
One testified that Estes took her shopping for a swimsuit at a mall 11 years ago as a favor to her grandparents, who knew Estes professionally.
According to her testimony, Estes offered to buy her a second swimsuit if she “modeled it for him.” She testified that on the way home, Estes put his hand in the waistband of her pants, but she stopped him.
The second woman testified that in 1999, at the age of 16, she redeemed a gift certificate for a massage and Estes was her masseuse. She testified that the massage made her uncomfortable and that Estes massaged her breasts, buttocks and his hand “brushed” her private area.
On cross-examination, Monroe suggested that L.J. and C.G. had not come forward until last year, when Simpson and Estes were battling custody of their boys.
The defense revealed that during a Department of Human Services investigation in 2008, C.G. told officials that Estes had never done anything inappropriate with her.
Monroe called several witnesses who testified that Estes had never displayed any behavior that would raise red flags or call into question his character.
L.J. had testified that Simpson had never pressured her to come forward, but the defense called a witness that testified that L.J. had complained to him that Simpson was “texting and calling” her all the time in an effort to get her to come forward with her allegations.
Estes took the stand in his defense on Thursday. He provided the jury with background of his exotic animal business and his relationship with Simpson and the kids, describing it as “like a dad.” Estes testified that his relationship with Simpson ultimately soured because of “her excessive drinking.”
Estes said the incident L.J. alleged to have happened in the truck cab was “physically impossible” to have occurred.
He testified that the massage was professional and denied massaging the woman’s breasts, only her chest muscles, which was standard according to him. Likewise, he denied that his behavior with C.G. was ever sexual in nature.
“Did you sexually assault or rape by an instrument or touch inappropriately (L.J.)?” Monroe asked.
“No, never,” Estes replied.
“Did you ever touch (C.G.) in a sexually inappropriate way,” Monroe asked.
“No, never,” Estes replied.
During cross-examination, Hill reviewed the testimony of each witness, asking Estes repeatedly if the statements made by each woman was true or not true.
Estes answered over and over that he could not speak to what each witness considered as truth, but repeatedly denied that he could do anything like the things alleged by each witness.
In closing statements, Hill reviewed the State’s case to jurors.
“I told you Monday that you judge a tree by the fruit it bears,” Hill said. “I submit to you that in this case, it’s poison.”
Hill said that the defendant took the stand and had an opportunity to deny the charges, but repeatedly answered that he couldn’t say.
“The defendant can’t say, but I’ll say and you can say,” Hill said, then turned to look at Estes. “Where is the evidence that tells us it’s not true? Where is it?”
In the defense’s closing statement, Fields told jurors that Estes took the stand and opened himself up for scrutiny.
“He stood accountable to you,” Fields said.
The jury deliberated for under two hours before delivering the verdict of not guilty.
Estes broke down as the verdict was read.
“I just want to see my boys,” Estes said after the trial. “I love my boys and I love the people of Mayes County.”