LYNCHBURG — A Nelson County judge on Tuesday upheld a 120-year sentence for a man found guilty of five sexual felony convictions. The terms will be served consecutively with no time suspended.
A jury recommended the sentence after convicting James E. Jessup III, 39, of Nelson County, on three counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count each of object sexual penetration and forcible sodomy.
During Tuesday's sentencing hearing, Nelson County Circuit Judge J. Michael Gamble said he is not always inclined to affirm a jury's verdict, but felt it was appropriate in this case.
"This case is a case that has, I think, at least to say, unpleasant facts," he said.
The victim claimed when she moved to Nelson County in 2009 at the age of 15, Jessup began a pattern of sexual behavior toward and with her.
During her testimony at the trial, she claimed he made sexual comments, which progressed to inappropriate touching, eventually to sexual acts and intercourse.
The girl, now 19, claimed all the contact was against her will, adding she was intimidated by Jessup and believed he could hurt people.
Her mother, who lives out of state, testified at the trial she contacted deputies in 2012 after her daughter accused Jessup of the abuse.
Defense attorney Lloyd Snook asked Gamble to set aside the verdict, claiming it "makes very little sense."
He noted the jury acquitted on multiple charges that included the element of force, threat or intimidation, while convicting on charge that incorporated the element. He also pointed out the victim did not submit a victim impact report.
He said he felt in recommending 120 years, the jury was "strongly" reacting to the fact Jessup had a prior conviction of this nature from Delaware in 2003. The commonwealth referenced the conviction during the trial, but it was misstated as a forcible rape charge when it was a count of rape in the fourth degree, or consensual sex with an underage individual.
Given the judge now had new information not available at trial, Snook said he had hoped Gamble would not uphold the jury's verdict.
"The notion of him being locked up 30-plus years is way more than necessary," he said.
Gamble said he felt confident the jury "had considered the evidence very thoroughly," and the facts in the case show "unacceptable conduct" on the part of Jessup. After testimony concluded at the trial, the jury deliberated for about 3 ½ hours.
Nelson County Commonwealth's Attorney Anthony Martin said while 120 years is "basically a life sentence," he felt in this case it was justified considering Jessup's record.
"I think it was a sad case all around," he said. "There are no winners in this case. ... I think it's a reasonable verdict and makes sense."
On Aug. 8, Jessup was convicted in Appomattox County Circuit Court of three counts of felony unlawful carnal knowledge of a minor and one count of felony indecent liberties. Appomattox Circuit Judge Kim White also upheld four convictions from county Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on charges of consensual sex with a minor, which is a misdemeanor.
Sentencing is set for Sept. 5.