A Laurel County man was sentenced to life imprisonment after a jury found him guilty of first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree sodomy during a trial on Tuesday.
Joshua Aiden Towe, 24, of Keavy, was found guilty on two counts of first-degree sex abuse and two counts of first-degree sodomy.
The incidents took place between May and October 2017, according to the indictment which was originally a nine count indictment. The victim in the case was under the age of 5 years old when the incidents occurred.
The jury, comprised of nine women and three men, took just 30 minutes to deliberate and return a verdict to those four counts and even less time to determine the penalty for those offenses. They recommended that Towe serve five years each on the sex abuse charges, which was the minimum sentence.
But they handed Towe the maximum penalty of a life sentence on one of the sodomy charges, followed with a 20-year sentence for the second sodomy charge.
The sentences will run concurrently, or at the same time, meaning that Towe must serve at least 20 years in prison before being eligible for parole.
Laurel Circuit Judge Greg Lay explained the meaning of the penalties for the jurors, stating that the jury could recommend a sentence for the sex abuse charges between one to five years but that the range of penalty for first-degree sodomy of a child under age 12 put the penalties ranging between 20 to 50 years, or a life sentence.
The jury decided on the minimum sentence on the sex abuse charges and one count of the sodomy charges, but the life sentence overrides the others.
Towe will be subjected to a sex offender evaluation and must register as a lifetime offender, meaning he must remain under the regulations of sex offender restrictions for the rest of his life. Even if paroled, Towe must remain under supervision of the parole board for the remainder of his life.
The jury trial got underway with opening statements by Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Terry Beckner and defense attorney, Jennifer Perkins, around 11 a.m. Tuesday. The Commonwealth presented three witnesses, including the victim in the case. The jury also watched video recordings of two interviews with the child at the Cumberland Valley Children's Advocacy Center, known locally as the TLC House. Those interviews are conducted in a homelike setting with trained and certified counselors dealing with the victim on a one-to-one basis. The victim's mother testified that she became aware of the incidents some time later after the child was experiencing some behavior problems and she had made some concerning comments.
That triggered concern and she said she began asking the child if she had any "secrets" she needed to share. From that came the allegations that Towe had exposed the child to sexual abuse.
According to the mother's testimony, Towe denied any such actions, stating that the child had walked into the bathroom while he was engaging in a sexual act.
But the child stated in the interviews at the TLC House that Towe had inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with her.
Kentucky State Police Detective Jesse Armstrong also testified about questioning Towe and obtaining a confession. But Towe countered that when he took the stand on his own behalf, although Lay reiterated that he was protected under the law from testifying. Towe, however, agreed to do so and said the confession was done to end the interview that included Armstrong and a social worker.
Armstrong said he conducted the interview from his unmarked police vehicle that was free of the bars between seats, wore casual clothing and repeatedly told Towe he was free to leave at any time. Armstrong also testified that Towe's first statement during the interview was that he was never alone with the child.
Conflicting testimony from the child and the mother both indicated otherwise, which Armstrong also pointed out to Towe, he said.
Armstrong also said Towe admitted to using marijuana previously as well as on the end of the interview, which was conducted in July 2018. He also said during cross examination by the defense (Perkins) that no forensic evidence had been collected, primarily because the incident was reported months after the offenses had taken place.
The defense's stance was that Towe's confession was coerced and pointed to some inconsistencies in the child's testimony, describing how the child's stories sometimes differed. She also asked for leniency in Towe's sentence if convicted.
"My client is now only 24 years old. We're talking about the possibility of a man's life," Perkins said. "When asked about forensic evidence, their answer was no. There was no DNA evidence collected. You've been given the instructions for the verdict. You're free to use your God-given common sense and find reasonable doubt in this case. I ask you not to convict someone on two different stories."
Perkins added that Towe had sought treatment for his issues, stating that "things were building up for Josh."
"Forgiveness is not given because it's deserved or earned," she said. "It's given because it's the human thing to do. Josh has no prior criminal record, he has enrolled in drug abuse treatment. I'm asking you to give him a second chance to be a better person than he is now."
Then the prosecution had its chance to convince the jury of its decision. Beckner stated that no DNA evidence was collected although the child was scheduled for a forensic examination but was distraught, causing the physician to stop the exam. He also pointed out that DNA evidence, even if collected, would be indeterminate since there was no intercourse involved.
"As a Christian man, I believe in forgiveness. As a Commonwealth Attorney, I believe in the law," he said. "For the child, I hope today is an end to this part of her life."