The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

January 6, 2014

Jasper County judges mete out prison terms to two sex offenders

JOPLIN, Mo. — Judges sent a Carthage man and a Joplin man to prison Monday in separate Jasper County cases involving sexual abuse of children.

Circuit Judge David Dally assessed Travis J. Liberty, 36, of Carthage, a 10-year term on a conviction for first-degree child molestation.

Liberty pleaded guilty to the Class B felony offense Oct. 7 in a plea deal with the prosecutor’s office that limited the prison time he might be assessed to no more than 10 years. He had been facing a charge of first-degree statutory sodomy for which he could have received from 10 years to life in prison.

The defendant sexually abused a 4-year-old girl in 2009 in Carthage, according to a probable-cause affidavit.

While Liberty did not confess to the crime, he told an investigator that it was possible that he may have done it, but he could not remember. He admitted that there were times that he had watched pornography downloaded from the Internet to his television while the girl was in the room with him, according to the affidavit.

In the other case, Circuit Judge Gayle Crane assessed Nelson L. Coleman, 51, of Joplin, a seven-year term in prison on a conviction for second-degree statutory rape. The defendant pleaded guilty to the offense June 25 in a plea deal that dismissed a first-degree statutory rape count.

The two charges stemmed from an investigation by Joplin police in December 2011 prompted by a 16-year-old girl’s disclosure of abuse and an interview of her by investigators at the Children’s Center in Joplin.

The girl alleged that Coleman had raped her on Dec. 5 of that year and several times previously during the course of sexual contact with her that dated as far back as when she was in the fifth grade.

Public defender Darren Wallace asked the judge to consider alternative sentencing of his client to a residential care center in Bolivar that specializes in the detention and treatment of sex offenders with a need for nursing home-type care.

Wallace pointed out that even though Coleman was deemed competent to stand trial in the case, he had spent much of the two years since his arrest in the care and custody of the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

In opposition to the request, Kimberly Fisher, assistant prosecutor, pointed out that Coleman’s sentencing-assessment report said that he had made threats to cause further harm to his victim and that she “still lives in fear of the defendant.”

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