Ashe Co. man convicted of raping child to get new trial, court rules

In August 2021, an Ashe County jury found Joshua David Reber guilty of four counts of rape of a child and six counts of sex offense with a child.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial for a man convicted by an Ashe...
The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial for a man convicted by an Ashe County jury of raping a child in 2021.(MGN)
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 7:55 AM EDT
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ASHE COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) – An Ashe County man sentenced to decades in prison for raping a young child will get a new trial.

That’s according to a ruling by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which took up the case of Joshua David Reber.

In August 2021, an Ashe County jury found Reber guilty of four counts of rape of a child and six counts of sex offense with a child, according to court documents. He was sentenced to serve between 50 and 70 years in prison.

On appeal, Reber argued the trial court should not have allowed the state to enter into evidence two text message exchanges between him and another woman he had a sexual relationship with, according to court documents.

The victim was 11 at the time she first reported the sexual abuse in the fall of 2015. She said the abuse began when she was 8, court records stated.

Reber was arrested on Nov. 4, 2015, and indicted in April 2016.

During the 2021 trial, an agent with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation testified about an exam of Reber’s cellphone, which found thousands of text messages between the defendant and his girlfriend at the time, but no communications between him and the child, according to court documents.

One of those text exchanges discussed a sexual encounter that happened after the girlfriend had been drinking.

In his appeal, Reber argued that such evidence “showcasing his prior sexual relationship” was inadmissible due to it being prejudicial. The appellate court agreed.

“The evidence, presented through a text message conversation, that Defendant previously engaged in consensual sexual intercourse with an adult woman who had been drinking is not sufficiently similar to show that Defendant possessed any plan or intent to engage in sexual acts with (the child),” the appellate court’s opinion read in part.

Reber also argued that the prosecutor made two “grossly improper” remarks during the closing argument about the defendant’s use of birth control during sexual encounters and sexually transmitted diseases.

In its opinion, the appellate court agreed that those comments were “unsupported and inflammatory, as it appealed ‘to passions or prejudice.’”

“The impact of the prosecutor’s statements in question, which conjure up inaccurate images of Defendant as sexually manipulative, promiscuous, and a carrier of sexually transmitted diseases, is too contaminating to be easily removed from the jury’s consciousness, thus infecting the entire trial,” according to the court’s opinion.

The court also referenced a state witness’s testimony that the victim’s 2015 medical exam found no physical evidence of sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.

Their opinion also stated there were no eyewitnesses to the years of alleged abuse, despite the child’s mother and the defendant’s grandmother “continuously being present at their respective homes to watch the children in their care.”

“We conclude that, due to the plain errors made by the trial court, Defendant is entitled to a new trial,” the opinion stated. “Therefore, we reverse and remand for a new trial.”

Judge Chris Dillon dissented with a separate opinion.

Assistant district attorney Lee Bollinger said the case is presently under consideration for appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

“There was a dissent in the case so we hope the Supreme Court will consider the decision from the Court of Appeals,” Bollinger said via email. “At a minimum, we will be prepared to retry the case if necessary.”

According to records from the N.C. Department of Adult Correction, Reber, 34, is currently housed in the Pasquotank Correction Institution in Elizabeth City.

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