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Emily Welker, Published June 03 2013

Bucking 20-year minimum, Cass County judge sentences convicted rapist to 5 years

FARGO – In a rare departure from the mandatory minimum prison sentence required by state law, a Cass County judge on Monday spared a 20-year-old convicted of forcible rape from 20 years in prison, instead sentencing him to five years.

Without Judge Wickham Corwin’s ruling, Jermaine Quincy Jones could have been sentenced to anywhere from 20 years to life in prison without parole for his Class AA felony gross sexual imposition conviction in February by a Cass County District Court jury.

At the hearing Monday, Corwin said to sentence Jones to 20 years in prison would be the “equivalent of another of this young man’s lifetimes,” and instead gave him a five-year prison term, with another five years suspended. The downward departure required that the judge find that the 20-year sentence would represent a “manifest injustice.” The five-year sentence is the absolute lowest a judge can order for AA felony gross sexual imposition.

Jones will also receive credit for about 10 months he’s served in jail since his Sept. 23 arrest.

He and his half brother, Tremaine Quincy Jones, were both charged with raping two 13-year-old girls at a south Fargo party where all four were consuming alcohol heavily. Neither side disputed that the girls had told the men they were considerably older than 13 years old. Jones told police he thought the girl was at least 17.

At the trial, a neighbor testified to hearing Jones’ victim scream, and say “no” and “stop” repeatedly, before the neighbor called police to report a domestic disturbance. A pediatrician also testified at the trial that the girl, who was found naked from the waist down near a pool of her own vomit, suffered bruising and swelling to her genitals.

Ryan Younggren, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney, asked Corwin to sentence Jones to 40 years in prison, with 20 of them suspended.

“Mr. Jones seems to have no idea of what he did wrong,” said Younggren, saying Jones focused on whether he knew the girl’s age or not rather than acknowledge it was a forcible rape. “There’s so much wrong here that goes beyond the victim’s age.”

Jones’ attorney, Pat O’Day, argued that imposing a 20-year sentence would be “a complete failure” of mandatory minimums in the state, and that his client’s pre-sentence investigation showed Jones to be the lowest risk to reoffend he’d ever seen.

“This is just a sad situation. In 20 years of practicing law, this will stand out to me,” the attorney said.

O’Day questioned whether the bruises mentioned in trial testimony were really injuries, and added, “Juries just don’t get it sometimes.”

Jones’ aunt, and Tremaine Jones’s mother, Melinda Henry, spoke on his behalf at the sentencing. She described a young man who had never before been in trouble with the law, had never received so much as a school suspension.

“He’s not a malicious person, he’s not a violent person,” she said.

Henry asked for the judge not to impose 20 years, saying the situation had been frightening and humiliating for their family. “I told them no parties,” she said of the night of the rape, “and look what happened.”

Henry’s son has entered a guilty plea in his own rape case, as well as pleading guilty to reduced charges in a case which accused him of possessing sexually explicit images of a 16-year-old girl and of having sex with her. His sentencing is set for the end of June.

Jones also addressed the court, periodically breaking into sobs. He apologized to the victim and her family.

“It wasn’t my intent for this to happen. I’m going through a crazy time, so I can only imagine what” the victim is going through, he said.

Jones also apologized to his family, whom he said he had let down.

Neither the victim nor her family appeared in court to give an impact statement. Younggren said the girl found it too emotionally difficult to speak publicly and had decided recently not to attend.

In imposing the sentence, Corwin told the court that he had thought long and hard about the case and had each time come back to the same conclusion.

Corwin said the jury’s verdict on the forcible rape charge was sound. “That, sir, is a terrible thing to do to anyone, but to do that to a 13-year-old girl?” he said.

However, the judge continued, there were other factors at play in the case. Jones was 19 years old at the time and had no prior record, he said.

A pre-sentence investigation found he has low levels of aggression, with no personality disorders and a supportive family, he said.

Corwin also cited how the girl had lied about her age and said her conduct the night of the party had not been childlike.

“I am still not convinced you completely get it – but I don’t doubt the remorse you expressed,” he said.

Finding a sentence to be a “manifest injustice” under state law means that it is “unreasonably harsh and shocking to the conscience” of an ordinary observer, Younggren said.

Jones will be on supervised probation for five years following his release, and will be required to register as a sex offender.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Corwin, as Jones, in jailhouse orange, was being led away by a Cass County sheriff’s deputy. “You’ll still be a young man. Make something of yourself.”

Corwin is facing allegations of sexual misconduct himself, though the allegations are not criminal. The North Dakota Judicial Conduct Commission will on June 24 hold a hearing on a complaint that Corwin sexually harassed a court reporter.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541