Most law-abiding citizens have a belief in the old adage, “Do the crime, pay the time.” It sounds cut and dried. Simple and sensible.
People who commit horrible acts should be given punishment that fits the level of the offense.
In reality, it’s not so straightforward.
Traveling the roundabout at the Mercer County Courthouse, I can almost hear the furious ruffling of papers in the air. It’s the sound of a lightning round of plea deals being brought before judges in the weeks leading up to the June Grand Jury.
Five days after covering a disturbing arrest in a felony child neglect case I am flabbergasted to learn that a plea deal is being considered.
Senior Reporter Greg Jordan is following up on my original story while stopping in to cover the preliminary hearing for one of the defendants. The hearing is waived, but Greg learns there is discussion of a plea.
Greg is told a first offense charge for child neglect allows for a misdemeanor plea, which would include two years of supervised probation and the involvement of Child Protective Services.
To remind readers, the victim in the case is a 7-year-old special needs child who came to school unclean, with severe diaper rash, and his feet covered with feces on one occasion.
As disturbing as these descriptions are to report, there were other details in the criminal complaint too graphic to include in the story. This child suffered much worse than readers know.
I should also note that, according to the complaint, CPS is already involved in the case.
In summary, school officials did their job by reporting the apparent neglect. CPS workers did their job by becoming involved in the case and, when the neglect continued, contacting law enforcement. Then, Bluefield Police Department officers did their job by investigating and issuing an arrest warrant.
Now it’s in the hands of the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Will they do their job?
A 38-year-old man should not have sex with a 15-year-old girl. One would think that would go without saying, but apparently not.
Last week, in another lickety-split deal, a Bluefield man plead guilty to one count of third-degree sexual assault for that very crime.
The plea came just 10 days after his arrest.
Eric Gregory Foster, 38, of Bluefield, was originally charged with five felonies including third-degree sexual assault, distribution and exhibiting child pornography, distribution and display to minors of obscene matter, use of minors in filming sexually explicit conduct, and soliciting a minor via computer.
The criminal complaints were disturbing.
One contained information on how the minor was “lured” to Foster’s residence. Another detailed videos on the defendant’s cellphone showing the juvenile girl involved in the sex acts.
Why, in heaven’s name, were four of the charges dropped?
The prosecuting attorney’s office said the victim did not want to testify at a trial. I understand this, and certainly empathize with the trauma of testifying in court before a judge, jury and audience. But I do not comprehend why prosecutors negotiated such an easy plea.
Five charges dropped down to one?
Why not start by pulling one charge and then negotiating to three?
Why not play hardball, stand strong, and fight valiantly for the teenage girl who was wronged?
Why not staunchly represent the client, who, for the prosecuting attorney’s office, is the victim?
The defendant in this case could serve only a year in jail. However, I am told by prosecutors that he will have to register as a sex offender after his release.
So, a pervert who admits to such by a public plea will have to continue to carry this title.
Wow. I bet that hand smack stings.
A week prior I am also at the courthouse annex for another hearing.
Daniel Cooper, 18, is appearing before Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Mark Wills to enter a plea to one count of possession and distribution of images showing a minor in sexually explicit conduct.
There are six victims in the case, but that fact is blurry as both Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler and defense attorney Bill Huffman do their best to convince Wills to accept the plea and sentence Cooper that day.
Watching the proceedings, I wonder about the passion for a quick resolution. Why all the arguments for an easy plea for the defendant? Why is no one speaking out in anger on behalf of the victims?
Judge Wills, in a strong and just judgment, refuses to accept the plea until he familiarizes himself with the case. “I will not (accept the plea),” he says. “I don’t know anything about this case.”
Following the hearing, I am told the plea is what the victims want — at least the majority of them.
I am also informed by some that the defendant is a good boy. The on-point message by his courthouse fan base is that he made a youthful mistake, and is remorseful.
Opinions can vary, but I did not see contrition as he sat at the defense table.
I am also appalled when I hear comments that tread dangerously close to slut-shaming of the victims. For those unfamiliar with the term, it implies that the victims’ own actions resulted in the crime.
I see the writing on the wall, and the outcome that was expected that day.
Six victims. One charge. Quick plea.
I leave the courthouse angry, befuddled, and wondering what the hell is going on in our county.
When did we become a haven for those who hurt others?
When did we become more concerned with logistics and jail overcrowding than the suffering imposed on children and teens?
When did we become callous to crime, and desensitized to the monsters who commit such acts?
And, most importantly, when did we forget about justice?
Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.