Child molesters, rapist plead guilty to reduce charges

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cape Girardeau County prosecutors extracted guilty pleas Monday from two child molesters and a rapist in bargains that resulted in some charges being reduced or dismissed.

The recommended sentences in each case -- ranging from a low of four months in the county jail to 15 years in prison -- reflect the facts of the crimes and the wishes of victims and their families, assistant prosecutor Angel Woodruff said.

Jeffrey D. Anderson, 26, faces the harshest sentence after pleading guilty to a single count of statutory sodomy for molesting a 5-year-old girl in her home on North Street in Cape Girardeau. Woodruff asked Judge Benjamin Lewis to sentence Anderson to 15 years in prison.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped two additional statutory sodomy charges.

Prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentence of seven years in prison for Christopher L. Pugh, 22, of Cape Girardeau, who pleaded guilty to forcing a 7-year-old boy to perform oral sex. The recommendation included allowing Pugh to be placed in the Sex Offender Assessment Program, which means he could be released on probation after 120 days.

Pugh pleaded guilty to a single count of second-degree statutory sodomy, reduced from first degree. Three additional charges were dropped and the reduced charge means he doesn't face a potential sentence of life in prison.

Lewis will sentence both men on Jan. 9 and reminded them that he is not bound by the recommendation from prosecutors. While seven years is the maximum sentence for Pugh, there is no limit on the length of the prison term he could impose on Anderson.

The third guilty plea came from Juan Thomas, 27, of Jackson, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who admitted statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl in an apartment laundry room. Lewis sentenced Thomas to four months after Woodruff assured him that Thomas would be deported as soon as he is released.

"These cases were vastly different in circumstances and the wishes of the family members," Woodruff said after the court hearings. "The disposition was discussed with every victim and their family members."

Police discovered Anderson's crimes when they were called to break up a fight in the home. The girl's older brother, who was 8 at the time, was trying to protect his sister and their mother called the police.

While investigating the fight, police found a home with massive amounts of trash and dirt. There was rotting food and animal feces in the foul-smelling residence. The mother, Terri Duncan, pleaded guilty to second-degree child endangerment last week and received probation.

When questioned by police, Anderson admitted he had molested the girl and that he had pornographic pictures of children on his computer. "This disposition in no way hinders prosecution by the federal government for child pornography," Woodruff told Lewis.

Afterward, Woodruff said she is unaware of any federal charges but wanted to have a statement that Anderson was liable for possible federal crimes on the record.

Under Missouri law, Anderson must serve 85 percent of whatever sentence Lewis imposes before being released.

When Lewis directed him to describe his acts, Anderson spoke in an almost inaudible whisper. By pleading guilty, Anderson avoided a trial that was set to begin Wednesday.

Pugh's crime came to light when the boy told his father. The mother of the victim wept in court as Pugh described the sexual abuse. "I violated his innocence as a child," Pugh told Lewis.

Thomas was the last of the three to face Lewis. He claimed the sex was consensual and that he didn't know the girl was only 15.

Lewis, who questioned each man about whether they understood what they were doing by pleading guilty, sought detailed answers from Thomas to make sure his English was adequate for the hearing.

"It is absolutely imperative that you understand what is going on today because there are very serious consequences," Lewis said.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped charges that Thomas forced the girl to have sex. The victim was reluctant to testify, Woodruff told Lewis, and proving a forcible rape would have been difficult.

Deportation is automatic as a result of the plea, Woodruff said.

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