COOKEVILLE — A trial that was set to begin yesterday in Putnam County Criminal Court has turned into a death investigation instead.
Defendant Robert Jay Joerger, 60, who was charged last year with a total of eight counts of rape and three counts of aggravated statutory rape involving two teenage boys, was discovered dead of an apparent gunshot wound just hours after failing to show up for court.
District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway told the Herald-Citizen this morning that yesterday’s trial would have involved the charges pertaining to only one of Joerger’s alleged victims, whose family was also suing Joerger in a civil matter, and that the charges pertaining to the other victim was set to be heard separately.
“After Mr. Joerger failed to arrive at the appointed time, the judge excused the jury after a brief wait, and a search for the defendant began,” he said.
Joerger’s attorney, Doug Dennis, reportedly expressed concern for the emotional state of his client yesterday when he failed to arrive in court.
Putnam County Sheriff’s Deputies began the search for Joerger at his residence, located south of town, and when they did not find him there, they broadened their search, authorities said.
They eventually located him slumped over in his vehicle in an empty parking lot at Cane Creek Park.
“The deputies who discovered his vehicle quickly determined that he had sustained a gunshot wound and was deceased,” said Capt. Carl Sells of the Cookeville Police Department’s criminal investigation division.
“He was sitting in the driver’s seat, and a handgun was recovered from inside the vehicle,” Dunaway said.
Because of that location within Cookeville city limits, the Cookeville Police Department was subsequently contacted to conduct the death investigation, which is being led by Det. Jamey McCurry.
Detectives said Joerger’s vehicle was located in a parking lot in the southeast area of the park, and deputies notified them of the finding shortly before noon yesterday.
“Fortunately, the park was not being used by many visitors at that particular time of day. It doesn’t appear that anyone else was at risk or in danger,” Capt. Sells said.
While the incident is still under investigation, an autopsy has been requested.
At this point, authorities say, it appears that Joerger took his own life, but they are awaiting medical examiner findings to make an official determination of the cause of death.
Of the charges Joerger was facing, three counts of rape and three counts of aggravated statutory rape involved one victim and all the other rape charges involved another.
“He was charged with rape even thought the victims are juveniles because they were over the age of 13 when the incidents happened,” Dunaway said.
Dennis told the Herald-Citizen this morning, “This situation was a nightmare for my client, and it appears the stress of it became more than he could handle.”
Victims’ family members also described their own situation similarly. ..Source.. by TRACEY HACKETT