Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 27, 2013

Tenacious enforcement of horrific crimes, but prison time is light

— — Another day, another headline proclaiming child sexual abuse charges in Mercer County. It’s deja vu in the newsroom. A few weeks ago, it seemed like we had child pornography charges on A-1 almost every single day, Monday through Friday.

It begs the question: Is child sexual abuse more prevalent here than in other areas of the state or nation?

I don’t have the definitive answer, but I would like to think it’s not. While headlines certainly attest to a potentially high number of child pornographers in southern West Virginia, one must also look at enforcement of the crime as compared to other regions.

Authorities tasked to these crimes in our area are vigilant and tenacious. They go after the bad guys with a ferocious spirit. When they catch them, it is our job to report it — from arrest to trial to verdict. I like to think that the seemingly higher numbers are due to dedicated law enforcement officers who investigate these cases with the due diligence they deserve.

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Many of our Facebook followers feel that bond is being set too low for child sex offenders.

In a case last week, a 40-year-old Mercer County man was indicted on 57 counts of sexual assault and sexual abuse against children, and possession of child pornography.

The alleged victims in the case were ages 3 and 14. According to the indictment, the man attempted sexual intercourse and committed other sexual acts with the 3-year-old child, and sexually abused the 14-year-old.

At his arraignment, his bond was set at $10,000. Among the comments this drew:

• “Why was he allowed bond? He is a danger to children. Come on, people.”

• “$10,000 bond. What a crock!”

• “Disappointed by the low bond — perhaps our local media could ask why such a low bond?”

While the media can certainly ask about bond, it is ultimately the judge’s decision. However, if residents feel strongly enough about this issue they can have a voice on election day.

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Bond is set before an individual is convicted of a crime, and in our country an individual is presumed innocent until he or she is found guilty. What I find alarming is how little time those convicted of murder and other heinous crimes are actually spending behind bars.

About year and a half ago I delved into this issue after Gerald Wayne Little, 60, of Wyoming County, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder for the March 2012 stabbing death of Jerry Buckner of Princeton. Buckner died after being stabbed multiple times in the neck.

Little was previously convicted of voluntary manslaughter in Wyoming County. “I left that courtroom knowing Gerald Little would kill again,” Wyoming County Prosecuting Attorney Rick Staton told me last year when discussing Little’s manslaughter conviction. “I thought he’d kill someone while he was in prison. This was a brutal crime. Brutal and bloody.”

Little had also previously been convicted of voluntary manslaughter in Wyoming County and had been charged with kidnapping and sexual assault in Raleigh County.

A little over a week ago, Little pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Buckner’s slaying. He was sentenced to 35 years.

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A close examination of the West Virginia State Police sexual offenders’ registry is also eye opening. It’s appalling to see how many of these convicted criminals are released after serving only a few years behind bars. Among the sentences I have found:

• A man charged with sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian and first-degree sexual abuse. He served seven years and was placed on parole for one. His victims were two female family members younger than age 5 and one male family member between the ages of 13-17.

 • A woman convicted of first-degree sexual abuse and use of a minor in filming sexually explicit conduct served approximately three years and was placed on parole for approximately 30 months.

• A man convicted of first-degree sexual abuse with a female family member between the ages of 6-12 was given one to three years home confinement and 10 years probation.

• And, finally, another man convicted of two counts of first-degree sexual assault who was given a suspended sentence, five years probation and 15 years extended supervision. His victim was a female family member younger than age 5.

If West Virginians want longer sentences for those convicted of horrific crimes, they need to speak out.

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On a much, much lighter note, there was lots of fun in the newsroom last week when we had a “bedazzle” afternoon and decorated pumpkins for the recent Women’s Expo.

While I am not a craft-type person, I will admit it was enjoyable painting and embellishing the gourds with Lifestyles Editor Jamie Parsell, reporter Anne Elgin and copy editor Jackie Puglisi. I even found myself becoming slightly addicted to rhinestoning after bedazzling wooden “BDT” letters and the stem of my blue pumpkin. There’s something about shiny crystals that seems to make everyone smile.

While glue guns and glitter are not typically found in our office, the recent break from hard news to arts and crafts was a refreshing respite from the mayhem and crime we typically deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Perhaps in the future we will have craft time more often.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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