A rural Carthage man avoided a trial this week on charges that he sexually abused a 14-year-old girl by accepting a plea offer that has sent him to prison for 20 years.

Rudy J. Norris Jr., 44, pleaded guilty in Jasper County Circuit Court to first-degree statutory rape in a plea deal dismissing three related counts of statutory rape and statutory sodomy involving the same victim.

Norris had been scheduled for a trial starting Wednesday. But court records show that Circuit Judge David Mouton accepted the plea deal at a hearing last week and assessed the defendant the agreed-upon length of prison term. Two of the four counts that Norris was facing carry from 10 to 30 years, or up to life, in prison under state law.

A probable-cause affidavit filed in the case states that the girl was interviewed Aug. 27, 2016, at the Children's Center in Joplin and told investigators that Norris took her into "an abandoned structure" on a property on County Road 100 near Carthage and plied her with vodka before touching her inappropriately and raping her while his hand applied pressure to her throat.

The girl told investigators that he choked her to the point she almost vomited. He also forced two other acts of sodomy on her, she told investigators.

When family members of the girl learned what happened and went looking for Norris, he purportedly ran off and tried to hide beneath an abandoned mobile home on another property nearby, according to the affidavit.

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Jeff Lehr is an award-winning reporter for The Joplin Globe who covers the courts and crime beat. He can be reached at jlehr@joplinglobe.com.