As Dacoda Ray shuffled into the courtroom, she seemed very small.
The petite 35-year-old mother of two was there to be sentenced for the sexual battery of two young family members, to which she pleaded guilty on Friday.
Her red jumpsuit swallowed her body, clashing with her orange crocs. Her hair was slightly wild, and the chains on her legs made less of a clanking than a tinkling sound as she took her place behind the defense table.
A court official handed a box of kleenex to where some members of her family sat with her remaining son, her youngest having died under suspicious circumstances in 2019.
Before the judge handed down Ray’s sentence, two women addressed the court: One to talk to the judge about how Ray had hurt others, and one to discuss how Ray had “never had a good situation” growing up.
Carrie McGuffee took the podium to tell the court that Ray had been mistreated by her mother, her grandparents, and an abusive husband.
“She had no responsibility so she couldn’t ever live a normal life,” McGuffee said, asking the judge for leniency for Ray. Attorney Heather Aby asked that it be a consideration that Ray pleaded guilty instead of taking the case to trial.
Courtney Hightower, a cousin who called herself “aunt” discussed the impact Ray had on her family as she lived with her grandparents along with her children. At one point during Hightower’s turn at the podium, McGuffee could be heard scoffing under her breath at Hightower’s words.
“She experienced her own traumas, losses, and hardships that she never got to recover from,” said Hightower. “But she knew what she was doing was wrong.”
When Assistant District Attorney Scott Rogilio gave his closing statements, he said Hightower’s words were enough. He then looked straight to Ray’s son, who had spoken with police about the case.
“When you’re 30, you’ll need to know how brave you were,” he said. “Thirty-year-old you needs to thank 13-year-old you. When you’re 30 and living a normal life, don’t make it about her. Live your own life. You’re a good boy and you’re going to be a good man.”
District Attorney Bubba Bramlett said he made sure to dedicate two assistant district attorneys to the investigation once he saw what a tough case it would be.
“You have to take everything away from them and let them spend time on that,” he said. “So that you can get done what needs to be done.”
ADA Ashley Allen said in her 12 years of working sex crimes, 98% of offenders are men. She said the case was especially unique in that it was a woman, and a mother who was convicted.
“In a case like this it’s hard to just say, ‘Oh. Okay,’ just because of how strange it is,” she said. “In this case thankfully we had the resources and the protocols that we follow in Madison County where we were able to open an investigation.”
Ridgeland Police Commander Brian Myers said working on the case has been an emotional roller coaster for those involved.
“This one has been very personal for me. I have children about that same age and it’s tough to see,” Myers said. “It affects everyone. This is one we’ll probably think about for the rest of our lives.”
Ray’s son Drake Ray died April 25, 2019. His mother said he died when he choked on a piece of popcorn. Police say that’s not the case, and that foul play is suspected. Ray is a suspect in that case, which is still under investigation.