Man convicted in Fort Worth of six counts of sex assault

FORT WORTH -- The seven women who accused Marcus Rhodes of rape or attempted rape were prostitutes who had consensual sex with him, Rhodes' attorney told a jury Friday.

"It's about consent, credibility and prostitution transactions," Pam Fernandez said during closing arguments in Rhodes' trial in 372nd District Court.

"That's what we've maintained since the beginning."

But prosecutors Sheila Wynn and Betty Arvin said Rhodes, 43, looked for women who are addicts or had records of prostitution and other crimes because they were less likely to report rapes to police.

"Women with checkered pasts are not thrilled about coming to the courthouse," Wynn said. "But they came and they told you what happened.

"They need to know that no matter who you are or what you've done, if you tell the truth and the evidence backs you up, you receive justice."

It didn't take jurors long to weigh the arguments. They deliberated just an hour and a half before convicting Rhodes of six counts of aggravated sexual assault -- two counts for one woman -- and two counts of attempted sexual assault.

Rhodes was acquitted of forcing one woman to perform oral sex but convicted of raping her. And he was acquitted of robbing another woman whom he was convicted of raping.

State District Judge Scott Wisch will assess punishment Tuesday unless Rhodes requests a pre-sentencing investigation. That would delay sentencing for about six weeks. Because Rhodes has served prison time at least twice, he could receive 25 to 99 years or life in prison for the aggravated sexual assaults and five to 99 years or life for the attempted sexual assaults.

'Like a wolf in sheep's clothing'

Rhodes was arrested in April 2009 after some women picked him out of photo lineups and other cases were linked to him through DNA.

During closing arguments, Arvin and Wynn methodically described the similarity of the assaults, which occurred over 10 years.

Rhodes' method of operation, they said, was to get off work, go cruising and pick up a prostitute. At first, Rhodes treated the women nicely, starting with oral sex. If he didn't like that, Wynn said, he pulled out his gun, ordered them to disrobe and raped them.

The assaults took place in secluded areas such as Arlington's Veterans Park, Fort Worth's Cobb Park or closed or abandoned buildings, she said.

Arvin said several women ran naked or swam creeks for help. One woman escaped before Rhodes raped her but was raped by another man she ran to for help. Another woman spent the night in the woods after Rhodes raped her, she said.

"He was like a wolf in sheep's clothing, leading lambs to the slaughter," Wynn said. "This man is counting on you discounting these women because of their past demons. Tell him he's wrong."

But Fernandez said the women's stories were not credible. She cited the women's drug and alcohol abuse. She also detailed their criminal records, the associations between several of the women and the inconsistent accounts of the assaults.

"They had to be coached or led through their testimony by the state," Fernandez said.

Even if the DNA matched Rhodes', Fernandez said, DNA cannot prove whether sex was consensual or forced. She also noted that several of the women had had sex with several partners in the days before the alleged rapes.

Fernandez said Rhodes will appeal.

"He maintains his innocence," she said.

Martha Deller, 817-390-7857