A 31-year-old Hallsville man was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday in the aggravated sexual assault of three young children.
The defendant, James Paul Stewart, pleaded guilty to four counts of the offense before 71st Judicial District Judge Brad Morin, who accepted a plea bargain agreement between the state and the defense.
According to Stewart's indictment, on or around April 1, 2016, he performed sexual acts on the children, his relatives. One of the victims, a boy, was 10, at the time. The two girls were ages 8 and 6. Additional court documents show that the children said the defendant also made them have sex with each other.
Katherine Betzler, the ad litem attorney, who represented the children in the case on behalf of Child Protective Services, described to the judge the extensive psychological trauma that the defendant's actions caused the victims.
"If the jury found him not guilty that could be very traumatic for the children as well," Betzler said, explaining why she didn't think it was in the best interest for the case to go to trial.
Not a dry eye was in the courtroom as two of the young victims and their mother's victim impact statements were read in court and directed to the defendant. Loved ones of the victims cried "justice has been served," as the defendant was remanded into the custody of the Harrison County Jail, following his sentencing.
Kristin Kaye, sexual assault prosecutor for the Harrison County District Attorney's Office, said she worked with the victims' ad litem attorney as well as their mother, extensively, to come up with a plea bargain agreement that would ensure justice was served in the case.
"When we work cases like this we always try to do what's in the best interest of the kids," Kaye said. "The evidence in this case was just the word of the children versus the word of the defendant. There wasn't DNA; there weren't any physical injuries or an independent witness or anything like that.
"Historically, when we've tried cases like that, juries have come back and said that there just wasn't enough evidence," she said. "The kids, their mental health has been very fragile since this happened. The youngest girl is in a residential treatment center and the boy, he has had several attempts to harm himself and has been in treatment for that, and so I was very concerned that a trial would be just too hard for them.
"I thought having to get up and testify in front of strangers and everything would just be too much," Kaye reiterated. "(And) of course, when you go to trial, there's never a guarantee, and so we worked out this plea."
Stewart will have to serve a minimum of 10 years before he's eligible for parole.
"The youngest would be an adult (by then)," Kaye pointed out.
Additionally, he'll have to register as a sex offender for life. Kaye said all were in agreement with the terms of the plea bargain.
"I could say that the judge contacted their (CPS) counselor before he agreed to accept the plea because he wanted to make sure that it was what was best for them and the counselor said she felt like the closure and everything was what was best for them, so everybody was on board," Kaye said following the hearing.
Representatives from CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates, who are appointed by the judge to advocate in the best interest of children who are in CPS care) were present at the hearing as well as Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA).
"Particularly they were there to support (the male victim). He's really formed a fantastic relationship with them and they make him feel safe," Kaye said of BACA.
(article courtesy: marshallnewsmessenger.com)