By Jeff Lehr
A Jasper County judge took a middle course Monday, assessing a Webb City man 10 years in prison on a conviction for child molestation.
James A. Terry, 64, was facing from five to 15 years after having been convicted by a jury Feb. 22 on a Class B felony offense of first-degree child molestation.
Terry was tried on charges that he molested three girls, now ages 9, 12 and 14, between 2006 and 2008 when they ranged from 3 to 9 years old, and that he attempted to molest another accuser 10 years ago when she was about 11. The jury acquitted Terry with respect to three of the alleged victims but found him guilty of molesting the 14-year-old girl.
The prosecution asked at his sentencing hearing Monday in Jasper County Circuit Court that Terry be assessed the full 15 years for his crime.
“It’s something (the 14-year-old girl) is going to have to live with the rest of her life,” said Assistant Prosecutor Kimberly Fisher.
But defense attorney William Fleischaker said the case cried out for leniency and argued that nothing would be accomplished by sending his client to the state penitentiary.
Fleischaker said Terry registered the next to lowest score possible in an assessment of the likelihood that he would commit another offense. A sentencing-assessment report also gave him the highest possible score on chances of completing a probationary period without re-offending.
The mother of the girl Terry was convicted of molesting testified that her family believed Terry loved the daughter in an appropriate way and had trusted him.
“There are no winners or losers in this nightmare,” she said.
Circuit Judge Gayle Crane denied a defense motion seeking a new trial before the sentencing hearing at which she assessed Terry the prison term.
Fleischaker told the judge that he believed a new trial was warranted because the court erred in not severing the girls’ cases and because the evidence presented was insufficient with respect to the girl whose testimony resulted in a conviction.
“I truly think this was a compromise verdict, that all 12 jurors were not convinced (the defendant) was guilty,” he said.
He said that by trying the cases together, the prosecution was able to convince the jury that Terry had “a propensity” to commit this type of crime. He also argued that the girl had not been specific enough when she was asked to point out where the defendant had touched her.
Fisher countered that the split verdicts show that jurors were able to keep the girls’ cases separate in their minds and reach separate verdicts. She further argued that the girl in question was quite clear in pointing to where the defendant touched her, and that the defense was given every opportunity to cross-examine her on the point.
THE DEFENSE CALLED a 12-year-old girl to testify Monday on James Terry’s behalf at his sentencing hearing. The girl told the court that Terry has had extensive contact with her for a number of years, both alone with her and in the company of other adults, and that she has always felt safe with him.
THE GIRL LATER WEPT when the judge pronounced Terry’s prison sentence.