A judge on Thursday sentenced a Lawrence man who repeatedly molested a girl he knew to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years.
In August, a jury convicted James M. Fletcher, 35, of Lawrence, of five counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child for repeatedly fondling the girl’s breasts over the course of more than two years, starting when she was 11.
At Fletcher’s sentencing on Thursday, the victim was in the courtroom, plus about 30 people there to support Fletcher.
Fletcher’s attorneys had previously filed with the court close to 30 letters requesting leniency in sentencing for Fletcher from friends, coworkers and relatives, including his wife, whom he married in November 2016. The letters described Fletcher as a hardworking and talented computer engineer, and a caring and involved relative.
But the judge said although those qualities and the community support for Fletcher were admirable, they were not sufficient to merit a departure from sentencing guidelines mandating life in prison for the crimes.
“This case is almost one of Mr. Fletcher leading a double life,” Judge Peggy Kittel said. “Behind the scenes, and in the confines of his own bedroom, he molested a child on at least five occasions.
“This was not a one-time mistake.”
Fletcher’s sentencing hearing was Oct. 30, but after hearing arguments and receiving evidence, Kittel took her decision under advisement until Thursday.
In addition to his prison sentence, Kittel said Fletcher would be subject to lifetime parole and to lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Fletcher’s attorney, Sarah Swain, said she had prepared an appeal, which she planned to file immediately following Fletcher’s sentencing.
Swain requested an appeal bond for Fletcher, which would leave open the possibility that he could bond out of jail while the appeal was pending, but the judge denied the request. He remains in custody.
Under sentencing guidelines for Jessica’s Law convictions — the law which, in part, increased penalties for certain sex crimes against children — even though he has no other criminal history, Fletcher faced up to life in prison with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years, plus lifetime registration and supervision if he were to be paroled.
Defense attorneys Swain and Cooper Overstreet had requested a total sentence for Fletcher of two and a half years, or 29 and a half months on each count, running concurrently.
They pointed to Fletcher’s lack of criminal history; the fact that this case involved the arguably less serious fondling of breasts rather than genital contact as in many Jessica’s Law cases; Fletcher willingly seeking psychological treatment; and Fletcher’s net of family and community support.
“Mrs. Fletcher and the rest of the family will readily agree that the conviction and the overall allegations do not define Mr. Fletcher’s character. Because his wife and family maintain Mr. Fletcher’s innocence, their wish would be that Mr. Fletcher be given a second chance after serving his sentence,” his attorneys wrote in a motion for leniency.
Prosecutors Mark Simpson and Alice Walker, however, argued that none of those mattered legally and that Fletcher should be sentenced according to guidelines.
The judge agreed with the prosecutors.
Kittel added that, although she understood a defendant planning an appeal was in a “difficult” situation, “not accepting responsibility for his crimes, for which he now stands convicted ... is something for the court to consider.”
Fletcher was charged in Douglas County District Court in September 2015 with one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child under 14, with four more counts added in May 2016. Charges indicate Fletcher molested the girl from December 2012 through January 2015, when the victim was 13.
The victim told the jury that numerous times when she stayed at Fletcher’s house in Lawrence, he fondled her bare breasts under her T-shirt at night.
She said sometimes she was awakened by the action but that she pretended to be asleep, and that afterward she felt “scared,” “confused” and initially passed off the encounters as dreams “to give myself a reason to not have to tell anybody.”
The girl said no one else saw the alleged molestation and that she never told anyone until February 2015, after a confrontation between Fletcher and her mother, where Fletcher told her mother he was sexually attracted to teens and worried he would develop an attraction to the girl.
When asked by police why the girl would make such accusations, according to a police interview played at trial, Fletcher answered, “She probably dreamt it.”