Jeffrey Glenn Harper, a former Russellville businessman, was sentenced last Thursday in Logan Circuit Court by Circuit Judge Joe Hendricks.
Harper was indicted in August 2021 and September 2022 on 49 Class D felony counts of sexual abuse, first-degree, victim under 16. Harper’s two-day trial and sentencing began on Feb. 21 of this year.
During the trial, the victim testified to moments in the presence of Harper’s wife that he had touched her in ways and on areas of her body she did not want him touching, and to the moment that Harper’s actions scared her and led her to finally tell someone what he was doing.
Although Harper faced 49 counts against him, eight counts which referred to touching of the breast, were dismissed by Judge Hendricks. Alan Simpson, Bowling Green defense attorney, had successfully argued there were no witnesses, no physical proof, and no evidence that these charges occurred. According to Rules of Confession, and due to lack of evidence and lack of corroboration presented during testimony, the judge directed a not guilty verdict on these counts.
After the jury of six men and six women received the case, they returned a verdict of guilty on the remaining 41 counts.
During the sentencing phase, Karen Palmer, an investigator with Probation and Parole, explained that a Class D Felony is the lowest classification of felony in the Commonwealth. She also explained that each count carries a penalty of one to five years of incarceration, but the sentence is capped at no more than 20 years, regardless of the total number of counts an individual is charged with.
Palmer stated, “Sexual abuse against a minor is mandated a violent crime. Anyone convicted of this crime must complete a sex offender treatment program before they are eligible for parole. The program takes two to three years to complete and is currently backlogged one year just to get into a program. An offender will not be released until this program is completed, even if they have met the percentage of time served allowed for early release.” She added, “Because of the nature of these charges, an automatic five-year conditional discharge is added to the end of the sentence.”
Palmer also explained, “Someone convicted of sexual abuse, first degree, will be a lifetime registered sex offender, and the charges are not eligible for expungement.”
During the jury trial’s penalty phase, Commonwealth’s Attorney Neil Kerr asked the jury to impose the maximum sentence of 20 years. However, after two additional hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a recommended sentence of 10 years.
In court last Thursday, Kerr read from a statement prepared on behalf of the victim and her family. The statement described the terrible toll the defendant’s conduct and the aftermath it took on the victim and her family that concluded by saying, “We are thankful for the guilty verdict, and we feel the sentencing set by the jury is fair. Nothing can take away the pain and suffering [the victim] has had to endure but we hope the guilty verdict will prevent this from happening to anyone else.” After reading the statement, Kerr concluded by saying he would set aside his personal opinions about what the sentence should be and support the victim’s position that the sentence recommended by the jury was fair. He went on to ask the court to impose the jury’s recommendation of a 10-year sentence.
Although Simpson argued that the Kentucky statutes allow the court to reduce a sentence, Judge Hendricks elected not to do that. Hendricks stated, “It is true that Mr. Harper operated a successful business and otherwise is a responsible and productive member of this community. I’m not taking away anything from that. But, I also find it interesting that it is not unusual that people charged with sex offenses to have no other complaints and to be well thought of by family and friends and other people in the community. It is not unusual to see victims of sexual abuse to exhibit love and affection toward the perpetrator. It is not unusual for the perpetrator in these offenses to have otherwise good behavior.
“The jury of 12 people who heard this case rendered the verdict and, to the degree I can be certain, they got it right. This is not a single instance of something that happened in a moment of poor judgment under the influence of a controlled substance or alcohol. This was a pattern of conduct that persisted for months. Mr. Harper has expressed his guilt and remorse for his actions and I hope that is sincere. However, the law requires a price to be paid for this kind of conduct. I cannot find that the jury’s verdict, in this case, is excessive, so the sentence is to be imposed as fixed by the jury.”
After Judge Hendricks made the sentence official, Kerr said, “Just as with any trial, the jury, in this case, was only permitted to see evidence related to the crimes committed by the defendant. They were only permitted to see the impact this case has had on the victim and her family, and even that was limited. You simply cannot convey to a jury the full extent of the harm done to a child that has been sexually abused. We see it in some form or fashion every week in the court system.
“So many times the perpetrators are a family member or close family friend. People that nobody would suspect. The children many times don’t even know it is wrong because it’s being done by someone they know and trust. They don’t realize it until years later and many of them are too embarrassed or ashamed to come forward. They’re told not to tell anyone and then often times when they do, the adults that are supposed to protect them, fail to take action. Some claim they do not believe the children or they’re just more concerned with how allegations of that nature will impact them or their family.
“We don’t get to show the jury the drug addiction, the depression, the sexual promiscuity, the endless counseling, the nightmares, and all that follows in much of the abuse, and worse yet, much of the abuse is never brought to justice. We don’t get to show them all of the potential jurors that are excused during jury selection on cases involving sex crimes against children, excused because they too were victims. People we work with, go to church with, and run into at Walmart, have suffered horrible things… and I feel confident in saying that for most of them, there was no accountability for the person that did unspeakable things to them. They approach the bench in tears at just the mention of the allegations because of the horror that returns to their minds.
“We have to be vigilant and report any suspicion of abuse. We have to listen to our children when they describe things they are otherwise too young to understand. We cannot keep these things in the dark any longer. We need members of this community to acknowledge that this evil exists and it is prevalent. It has been for a long time. Then, if you really want to see justice done, when you are called for jury duty, put away the flawed thinking and myths, such as these things do not happen, we cannot believe children, or that “so and so” would never do that. The perpetrators are never who we suspect. As was the case with Mr. Harper. And children rarely respond in the ways we would expect. They are, after all, children.
“Moving forward I hope our community will look for ways to support this victim and her family, and those that follow. Keep them all in our prayers. We need to be on guard because this problem is only getting worse.”
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