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Accused molester shoots self

Jeffrey Clarke

Jeffrey Clarke

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Jeffrey Ford Clarke faced bleak prospects for the remainder of his life, even if he would have been exonerated on a long list of child molestation charges, his attorney said Tuesday.

Clarke, 50, reportedly died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds Monday morning at his Walton County home, around the time he was due in Gwinnett Superior Court for closing arguments in his child molestation trial, said his attorney, Eugene Novy.

The case was hours away from being in the hands of a jury. Clarke could have been condemned to up to 430 years in prison.

Lisa Jones, deputy chief assistant district attorney, said the state would have settled for no less than 25 years.

Novy said his client exhibited no red flags of suicidal behavior when they last spoke Friday, as evidence concluded. He'd been free on $275,000 bond for five years and tended to large swaths of land owned by his family in Walton County -- the only employment he could find, Novy said.

"After you get accused of child molestation, you don't do anything for a living," Novy said. "Once you've been accused, your life is over."

Prosecutors believe Clarke sealed his own fate by engaging in a pattern of child abuse that spanned 21 years. Six alleged victims testified about their abuse during Clarke's weeklong trial.

Jones said Clarke abused seven boys -- the children of close family friends -- between 6 and 10 years old in 2005. Clarke earned the parents' trust enough to let him baby-sit, which eventually led to sleepovers, Jones said.

"He groomed them by gaining the boys' trust as well as their parents'," Jones said. "He would often buy them toys."

Clarke faced two counts of aggravated child molestation, three counts of child molestation and 14 counts of sexual exploitation of children for incidents occurring between March and June 2005, Jones said.

Novy said his client was unmarried but had children of his own. He declined to elaborate.

"I'm sad for him; I'm sad for his family," the attorney said. "This is disturbing."

An autopsy to confirm Clarke's cause of death is being performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, a representative of the Walton County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday. Those results are pending.