A man on trial in Gwinnett County on child molestation charges shot and killed himself at home Monday rather than return to court.
Jeffrey Ford Clarke, 50, was facing a recommended 25-year prison sentence if convicted and could have received up to 400 years had he been punished for each alleged offense, which became moot with word of his possible suicide.
"I guess he gave himself the death penalty," said Danny Porter, Gwinnett County district attorney.
Clarke was charged with two counts of aggravated child molestation, three counts of child molestation and 14 counts of sexual exploitation of children. Seven alleged victims, all sons of family friends, testified during the trial they were 8 to 10 when Clarke wooed them with video games and sleepovers before molesting them at his home. The alleged victims' current ages range 11 to 29.
Police also found hundreds of images of child pornography on Clarke's home computer, according to Assistant District Attorney Lisa Jones, who said Clarke was one of the worst offenders she has prosecuted in her 17-year career.
"Those boys had to come in and all of them had to tell some of the most horrible things that ever happened to them in their life," Jones said. "He forced them to do it, and then he ended it like this."
Clarke shot himself twice around 9 a.m., when he was due in court, at his home outside of Monroe in Walton County, said Clarke's attorney, Eugene Novy. Walton County Sheriff's investigators said they are awaiting the results of an autopsy before declaring an official cause of death.
Clarke was out of jail on $275,200 bond with an electronic ankle monitor.
Novy said his client obviously was disturbed about being labeled a child molester and called the situation "very sad."
"The case wasn't decided," Novy said. "No matter what could have happened, it didn't happen, and now he's got a family grieving out here."
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