Billy Wade Mathis, 36, was found guilty as charged of capital sexual battery on a child under 12. The molestation reportedly began when the girl was 5.

PANAMA CITY — Finding that an attempt to end his life after being confronted by a child rape victim amounted to a guilty conscience, a jury has convicted Billy Wade Mathis of repeatedly molesting the girl.

Mathis, 36, was found guilty as charged Thursday and now faces life in prison for the capital offense. He has been in custody since Jan. 3, 2017, when the Bay County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call of an attempted suicide. Mathis later was charged after authorities learned the attempt on his life came after a girl confronted Mathis for molesting her — starting at the age of 5 — over the course of several years.

Jurors deliberated almost two hours before finding Mathis guilty of a count of capital sexual battery on a child under 12 and two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation. He faces life in prison when he is sentenced May 14.

Mathis’ shoulders slumped and he bowed his head as the court read the verdict. A brief applause came from the victim’s side of the court, where several family members wept. As they exited the courtroom, many of Mathis’ family members also sobbed, with one stating, “Karma is a [expletive].”

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet called only three witnesses in the trial: the victim, her mother and BCSO Deputy Anita Ward. The state’s theory of the case was that Mathis molested the girl from 2005 to 2010 while living as the mother’s boyfriend in a Southport trailer. Over the course of several years, Mathis more than once a week sexually abused the child, prosecutors said.

“Billy would come into the room where the 5-year-old slept and rub her back,” Overstreet told the jury. “But it didn’t end there. He began to do the unmentionable, the unconscionable.”

It wasn’t until December 2016 during an argument between the mother and daughter that the molestation allegations came to light. A day later, the girl confronted Mathis over Facebook Messenger.

“Why did you do all those things,” the message read. “... What about a 5-year-old attracts you? You know what? you’re sick.”

Overstreet presented testimony from BCSO that two days later, Ward responded to a call of a suicidal person to find Mathis in a truck with two belts in his passenger seat and ligature marks on his neck. Overstreet argued that act showed Mathis’ recognition of guilt.

BCSO’s testimony almost didn’t make it before the jury, though. Defense attorney Ryan Phillips objected to it on grounds that it could prejudice the jury into thinking Mathis was trying to evade the charges by suicide. Phillips added there also was no evidence Mathis read the messages or knew of any possible prosecution.

“There was no prosecution, that he knew of, at the time,” Phillips told the court.

Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet momentarily sided with the defense to exclude the testimony but later reversed himself. He eventually allowed the testimony, saying a “threat of prosecution” does not require a defendant to know he is being prosecuted.

“The issue doesn’t turn on whether there is pending prosecution,” Judge Overstreet said in court. “It would be a fair inference for the jury to draw that subsequent to the Facebook message there was a consciousness of guilt, and he attempted to take his life.”

In addition to trying to separate the suicide attempt from the online confrontation, Phillips also attempted to cast doubt on the allegations. He questioned the claim that the regular sexual abuses inside a single-wide trailer went undetected.

“How do you have a mother in the house that doesn’t see that?” Phillips asked the jury in his closing. “That’s doubt itself. I find it impossible that no one noticed this.”

Despite the allegations not coming to light until about six years after Mathis no longer lived with the victim, the jury sided with prosecutors.

One piece of evidence that did not make it before the jury was an admission of guilt made by Mathis. BCSO reported that after taking him to a hospital for treatment from the suicide attempt, officers conducted an informal interview with Mathis. At one point, Mathis made statements that he was trying to commit suicide because of the allegations. However, Mathis had not been read his Miranda Rights at the time, and the court deemed the evidence inadmissible at trial, court records stated.

Mathis was offered a plea agreement but took the case to trial. After being convicted, he now faces life in prison.