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Convictions yield 10-year sentence

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By John Barnhart

A discussion of a state statute cropped up once again during John Edward Pressley’s sentencing hearing in Bedford County Circuit Court, Friday. The 25-year-old Martinsville man entered four no contest pleas to computer solicitation of a child less than 15 years old at a hearing in August. The charges stemmed from conversations Pressley had on the computer between May 6, 2009, and June 3, 2009, with a Bedford County Sheriff’s Office undercover officer that Pressley believed was a 13-year-old girl.

    “I didn’t realize that we would be going down this road again,” commented Judge James Updike, after an argument by Assistant Public Defender John Bradley that the statute under which Pressley was charged was unconstitutionally vague.
    After a brief recess, Judge Updike returned and said that the last time they discussed the syntax of the English in the statute, he agreed that the syntax could be better, but that this didn’t provide sufficient basis to rule the law unconstitutional.
    Judge Updike said that the law is to prevent soliciting a child that a person thinks is under 15. It is irrelevant whether or not the person is actually under 15. The subject is solicitation, not a consummated act. He concluded that the law passes constitutional muster.
    Another issue that reappeared was the enhanced penalties portion of the law, which sets a mandatory minimum sentence when the victim is seven years younger than the person doing the soliciting. Bradley argued that it is based on the actual age difference, not on what the person doing the soliciting believes it to be. He said that the enhanced penalties portion should not apply because Pressley is not seven years older than the investigator who was portraying a 13-year-old on the Internet.
    There was also a question about whether the court had the discretion to make minimum mandatory sentences for multiple offenses run concurrently, rather than consecutively. Bradley argued that the statute gave the court that discretion.
    Bradley also attempted to argue that the enhanced penalty portion of the statute denied his client due process and was, therefore, unconstitutional.
    Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance argued that the person being solicited does not have to be an actual child for enhanced penalties to take effect.
    “If this had been an actual sexual assault against an actual 13-year-old, we would have five [cases] now,” he said.
    Nance added that the Commonwealth has an interest in protecting youth.
    Judge Updike rejected Bradley’s arguments, with one exception. He said that the statute does give the court the discretion to make the mandatory sentences on multiple charges run concurrently.
    This is what he did. Pressley was sentenced to a total of 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended. Once he is released, he will have to register as a sex offender and will be barred from having any access to a computer or any contact with minors.