Appeals Court rejects appeal

Published 6:28 pm Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A former Laurel city councilman’s conviction for having sex with a teenage girl has been upheld by the state Court of Appeals.

Joseph Glenn Jones was convicted in 2006 in Jones County Circuit Court. Judge Billy Joe Landrum sentenced Jones to the maximum 30 years in prison, with 15 years suspended.

Jones was accused of having sex with a girl and impregnating her in July 1999. The victim, whose name was not released, testified that Jones picked her up from a friend’s house several times, had sex with her and paid.

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She testified that when she became pregnant, Jones gave her money for an abortion. She didn’t have the abortion and the child was stillborn in December 1999, 22 weeks into the pregnancy, she told the jury.

Prosecutors gave the jury two chances to reach a guilty verdict. According to state law, a statute calls for different sentences depending on whether the victim of sexual battery is 13 or 14 years old.

If Jones had been convicted of sexual battery against a 13-year-old, he could have faced life in prison instead of the maximum 30-year sentence against a 14-year-old.

On appeal, Jones contended there was no evidence to support the jury’s finding that girl was 14 years old at the time she became pregnant. He claimed all the evidence indicated that she was 13. Jones argued prosecutors failed to prove the age of the victim, which is an essential element of the crime of sexual battery.

Prosecutors contended the baby that the girl conceived with Jones was born on Dec. 27, 1999, at the approximate age of 22 weeks. Prosecutors said that meant the baby was conceived on or about July 30, 1999. They said the girl turned 14 on Aug. 5, 1999.

Appeals Judge Donna M. Barnes, writing Tuesday for the court, said because of the closeness in time of the girl’s 14th birthday and the estimated date of conception, about a week to 10 days, the jury could have found that the girl was 14 at the time the baby was conceived.

“Jones was subject to a less severe sentence than he would have been had the jury found that … was 13 at the time he had sex with her,” said Barnes.

Barnes said it was possible that the jury could have been uncertain as to the timing of the baby’s conception and chose to err on the side of caution by convicting Jones of the lesser crime.

“We also find it significant … Jones did not object to the instruction advising the jury of their option to find him guilty of sexual battery of a female child at least the age of 14,” Barnes said.

If Barnes felt prosecutors hadn’t proven the girl was 14, Jones could have challenged the jury instruction.