Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Haywood County, NC roundup of child sexual abuse cases

Beginning with a plea entered by a Tennessee man to solicit a Waynesville minor for prostitution and ending with the tearful, emotional plea by a young Waynesville man who’s consensual relationship with his young girlfriend led to criminal charges, this week in Haywood County Superior Court has been dominated with pleas to sex crimes.

One woman will spend almost seven years in prison after pleading guilty to second degree rape of a young boy, another will be sentenced in May after pleading guilty to 18 felony charges related to sex crimes against children.

Following is a recap of pleas entered this week in superior court:

Russel Lang Perhaps the most heart-wrenching plea of the week, according to courtroom witnesses, was entered Thursday by Russel James Lang, 20, of Waynesville, who pleaded guilty to statutory rape of a victim who was at the time 14 years old and more than four years, but less than six years, younger than Lang who was 19 when the incident occurred.

The case itself was described by Lang’s defense attorney Jeff Jones as a sort of Shakespearian romance, likening the relationship between Lang and the victim, who at the time was his girlfriend, to that of Romeo and Juliet. During a hearing that left few without tears, Lang pleaded guilty to one of two counts of statutory rape and was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Mark Powell to spend the next three years, six months in the North Carolina Department of Corrections. One count of the same charge was dismissed.

Under state statute, Lang is not required to register as a sex offender. The victim, who sobbed throughout the entire court proceeding, addressed the court through a letter, read aloud by Assistant District Attorney Angie Rogers. In the letter, the victim wrote that she and Lang initially grew to know each other at a party held at Lang’s house.

After realizing they shared a lot in common, the two began a relationship that lasted two years and ended with Lang’s arrest on Aug. 31, 2007. The victim — who is five years, five months younger than Lang — said she and Lang engaged in consensual sexual intercourse.
“I just don’t want anything to happen to him because of me,” she wrote. “I just don’t want to see him get hurt.”

Lang told the court that the loving, committed, long-term relationship between himself and the victim was based on love between two people who shared a lot in common. Dr. Pete Sansbury, a clinical psychologist from Asheville, told the court he has evaluated Lang and determined he is not a sexual predator, nor a pedophile, and would have a low risk of recidivism. Sansbury described the situation as an adolescent romantic relationship between an immature male and a victim who is simply too young to be involved with him. Lang is supported by a large network of people throughout the community, Jones told the judge.

When Jones asked if, by a show of hands, there was anyone present in the courtroom who supported Lang, at least 24 people raised their hands.

Judge Powell was also asked to consider a stack of 26 letters presented to the court — written by friends and family members, including a church pastor and numerous Haywood Community College instructors — each coming to Lang’s defense as a person of good character. Furthermore, Jones pointed out, when Lang was first notified of warrants being issued for his arrest, he turned himself into the Waynesville Police Department and offered a video confession of his relations with the victim.

“He told them everything because he had nothing to hide,” said Jones. “He was in love. She was in love.” At that time, Lang spent 92 days in the Haywood County Jail — for which he is to be given credit.

Immediately upon his release from jail, he got a job and enrolled in college, said Jones. He was scheduled to take his final college exam today, but “his whole semester is shot now.”

Stephanie Rae Mathis Spann

After pleading guilty Monday to the second-degree rape of a 13-year-old boy, Stephanie Spann, 31, of Jackson County, will spend at least six years, eight months in the North Carolina Department of Corrections, a sentence also imposed by Judge Powell. She could spend as many as eight years, nine months incarcerated.

The crime to which Spann pleaded guilty was committed on Jan. 7, 2007, in the victim’s home, while his mother was away. At that time, after a night of drinking alcohol and using methamphetamines, Spann initially had sexual intercourse with an older male adult, then with the victim who was also under the influence of drugs and alcohol, Assistant District Attorney Jim Moore said.

Initially she was also charged with first-degree statutory rape and first- degree sexual offense — charges that were dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement. While second-degree rape usually requires evidence of forced intercourse against a victim’s will, Spann was convicted due to the young victim’s incognizance, which rendered him physically helpless, Moore said.

The victim was also drinking alcohol and using methamphetamines the night the incident occurred, he continued, and wasn’t fully aware of what was happening. “When a person is mentally disabled or, in this case, was physically helpless and can’t appreciate what is happening” that also counts as second-degree rape, said Moore. Upon her release from prison, Spann will be required to register as a sex offender.

No comments: