- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina man who fled court during his trial for statutory rape has been found in his girlfriend’s attic, authorities said, ending a nearly weeklong manhunt.

The strange case included the jury convicting the man despite his absence from court. The 43-year-old disappeared from court on Nov. 16 as jurors began deliberating in his trial on first-degree statutory rape charges, authorities said.

Gary Franklin Simmons was found in his girlfriend’s attic in Belmont on Saturday, according to The Gaston Gazette (https://goo.gl/ATXHR9 ).

“It’s a big relief for the town of Belmont and the sheriff’s office,” said Gaston County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mike Radford.

A probation officer found Simmons when he conducted a search of the girlfriend’s house.

“Officers put information together from different sources and were pretty sure he was at that location,” said Basil Marret, the interim police chief for Belmont.

Police had also issued alerts to departments in several counties in two states where they believed he had family.

Both Simmons and the woman were booked into jail without bond.

Jail records show that Robin Lackey has been charged with a felony count of harboring a fugitive. The jail website didn’t make clear if she had a lawyer.

The website lists two new charges of felony failure to appear for Simmons.

Simmons, who had been out on bond prior to his trial, disappeared during a break not long after the jury began deliberations. He was accused of having sex with a teenage girl who was visiting the house where Simmons was living, the newspaper reported.

He was convicted on Tuesday after the judge instructed jurors to continue deliberating in Simmons’ absence.

After the conviction, the judge delayed his sentencing until authorities could bring him back to court. A defense attorney for Simmons, Larry Hoyle, has said his client could be sentenced to more than 50 years in prison on the statutory rape conviction.

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