Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Evacuee Sex Offender Gets off With Misdemeanor

A 24-year-old Hurricane Katrina Evacuee who was charged with third-degree sexual assault for having sex with a 13-year old girl at the evacuee camp at Camp Dawson in Preston County has been let off with a plea to a misdemeanor offense of third-degree sexual abuse, reports the Morgantown Dominion-Post:

New Orleans evacuee pleads no contest

BY KATHY PLUM The Dominion Post

KINGWOOD -- A New Orleans evacuee in prison for 44 days pleaded no contest to a lesser charge Monday.

Damien Batiste, 24, pleaded no contest before Magistrate Diane Thomas to third-degree sexual abuse, a misdemeanor. Thomas gave him credit for time served and ordered him to pay $153.50 in court costs.

Batiste, who was one of the New Orleans evacuees brought to Camp Dawson, Preston County, was charged Sept. 9 with third-degree sexual assault, a felony, in connection with the assault of another evacuee, a 13-year-old girl. Batiste was on parole from a Louisiana prison on drug-related charges.

His brother, Tyrone Batiste, 28, was charged with intimidating a witness, a misdemeanor, pleaded guilty and has left the county.

The victim and witnesses also have left Camp Dawson.

"It would be a difficult case to try," Preston Assistant Prosecutor James E. Shay Jr. said Monday. "But in reality, the crime of sexual abuse fits what he did do."

Damien Batiste has been in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail since his arrest. He was to be released Monday after the hearing.

Preston County has been billed $48.50 per day that he was at the jail. The county plans to submit the $2,182 bill to FEMA for reimbursement, as part of the expenses of operating Operation Safe Haven at Camp Dawson.

"We are attempting to recoup those costs from the federal agency that's paying the bill, but I don't personally hold much hope," Preston Sheriff Ron Crites said.

Batiste will not remain in the area, Shay said.

"As a part of this, because of the victim's age, he has to register as a sex offender for life," he said. "I got word he was going back to Texas."

Call this what you will, but don't call this justice. Plea-bargaining a parolee charged with a felony sex offense like this to a misdemeanor is not justice, especially when it appears there are witnesses to the crime in adyoungon to the yong victim. If the defendant has been prosecuted & convicted of third-degree sexual assault (61-8B-5), together with the statuenhancementce ehnancement for a second-time felon (61-11-18), he could have received a 10-year prison sentence (which would thus reseligibilityole eligiblity after 2 1/2 years and mandatory release for good behavior after as little as 5 years [28-5-27]).

And of course, this story is just another sad reminder that West Virginia's sex offender laws are still too weak. We need to pass Jessica'a Law--which requires a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for any person at least 18 years of age who sexually abuses or sexually assaults a victim younger than 13 years of age and life without parole for a second such offense--and enact the other reforms to our sex offense laws I have proposed that go beyond Jessica's Law.