Originally created 09/30/97

Martinez man pleads to reduced sex assault charges



At the last moment, a 35-year-old Martinez man pleaded guilty to a reduced sexual assault charge instead of standing trial Monday in federal court.

Although Henry Jefferson III still denied he used any force, the possibility of spending 12 years behind bars without any chance of parole led him to plead guilty Monday to sexual abuse, his attorney Marty Puetzexplained to the judge.

Instead of hearing evidence Monday morning, the federal court jury listened as U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. accepted Mr. Jefferson's guilty plea. Mr. Jefferson was indicted in May on a charge of aggravated sexual abuse, a crime comparable to aggravated rape in Georgia's Superior Court.

Special Agent Paul Gerth of Fort Gordon's criminal investigation division testified Monday that a resident of the military base reported Mr. Jefferson had raped her in her home on July 13, 1996.

Judge Bowen explained the watching juror that in his 32 years of legal experience, he has never seen a "typical rape case," but the one against Mr. Jefferson was especially different and one in which Mr. Jefferson had an arguable defense.

Before the alleged assault, Mr. Jefferson and his accuser had had an on-going sexual relationship for several months, an affair she initiated, Judge Bowen said. But on July 13, 1996, she had decided to end the relationship and Mr. Jefferson forced her to have sexual relations. Several hours later, she called the police, Judge Bowen said.

Mr. Jefferson contended the woman consented to the encounter, but it was possible that the jury might not agree and convict him, said his attorney. With the plea agreement, Mr. Jefferson's maximum possible sentence should be 35 months, a short enough time period that his family won't suffer extremely and he will be able to retain his job with a moving company, Mr. Puetz said.

Judge Bowen allowed Mr. Jefferson to remain free on bond pending sentencing. A sentencing date hasn't been set yet. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the federal prosecutors will recommend a 35-month sentence.