Several months ago Derek Jones’ lawyer, Charles McKerns, Jr., said he thought he could mount a strong mitigation case when Jones came up for sentencing in Northumberland County’s Circuit Court on nine felony charges involving sex with underage females.
Thursday, McKerns’ prediction was shown to be true as Circuit Court Judge Harry T. Taliaferro sentenced Jones to an active sentence of four years in the penitentiary. Virginia’s sentencing guidelines set the appropriate sentence as being between two years, one month and six years, seven months.
Jones could have been sentenced to 45 years incarceration and Commononwealths Attorney Julia Sichol, standing in for Northumberland County’s Commonwealths Attorney who had recused herself, urged the court to give Jones prison time in excess of that called for by the guidelines. The acts went on for months at the school, Sichol said. “He was the adult in the situation, a police officer put in the school to protect the children.”
Responding to evidence from Jones’ witnesses that they had seen him deal with children, had never seen anything inappropriate and would trust him with their children, Sichol pointed out, “The victims’ families trusted him with their children. Nobody saw him at school, either.”
With half a courtroom full of Jones’ family and friends watching and, occasionally, muttering “Amens,” McKerns called a parade of witnesses for Jones starting with former White Stone police chief Ryan Griffith who said that while he was “greatly disappointed and sick to my stomach” when he heard of the charges against Jones, he still thinks, “Derek is a good person.”
Kathy Pitman of Lancaster who has known Jones and his children for years, said she “cried for a week” when she heard of the charges and that Jones’ action were “an aberration.”
Jones’ cousin, Kenneth Waller, testified that Jones’ offenses came after both his parents died. Waller said that after their deaths “there was a big change” in Jones, an only child.
Waller said that when Jones is released from custody, he will have the support of his family and friends and church. “I know it won’t happen again.”
As Waller testified, Jones wiped tears from his eyes.
The Rev. Michael Gates of The City Worship Center in Kilmarnock, testified that he carries on a prison ministry and had met Jones when Jones was jailed following his guilty pleas in October. Gates said in 15 years of prison ministry Jones was one of the few who readily admitted he was guilty. Since then, Gates said he has seen Jones have a real conversion. “There’s a cleansing power when Jesus Christ comes into your soul,” he said.
Gates said he is well aware of “jailhouse conversions” and Jones’ is not one. Gates aid he’d been asked to testify for 15 inmates in the past two tears and Jones is one of the two he thought were sincere and for who he agreed to speak.
Former Lancaster supervisor Lewis Conaway took the stand voluntarily. McKerns said he had approached him and asked to testify.
Conaway said he has known Jones all Jones’ life. “This is so totally unlike Derek Jones,” he said.
Conaway said Jones had dropped out of college and missed to chance to be an Army officer through the Reserve Officers Training Program when he discovered his then girl friend was pregnant. He dropped out, married her and has worked to support her and their children ever since. “He’s one of the best,” Conaway said.
In argument McKerns emphasized Jones’ exemplary life until the incidents giving rise to the charges. He emphasized the opinion of Dr. Glenn Miller who conducted a phsyco-sexual evaluation of Jones prior to sentencing, “Mr. Jones presents a low risk of re-offending,” McKerns noted that Miller had concluded.
McKerns said that Jones had been a productive citizen “and I suggest he will be again,” McKerns said. He asked that the court give a sentence at the low end of the guidelines.
On the five indecent liberties with a minor charges, the three sodomy charges and the computer sex solicitation charge, Jones could have been sentenced to 45 years behind bars. Taliaferro sentenced him to five years on the first eight charges and one on the computer solicitation charge but suspended four years of each of the first eight. He sentenced Jones to one year on the computer charge but suspended all of it. In sum, Taliaferro sentenced Jones to 36 years in jail with all but four years suspended.
After the hearing, Sichol said she was “disappointed in the sentence.