COLUMBIA — A Columbia man was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday for forcing a 6-year-old girl to touch him sexually in March 2011.
Jesse Lee Heaston, 27, was found guilty of first-degree statutory sodomy on July 11 after more than two years of court procedures. According to a probable cause statement filed in Boone County Circuit Court, Heaston forced the girl, the daughter of his girlfriend at the time, to rub his back and legs. He also had her reach under his shorts and rub his genitals.
Ten years is the minimum sentence for a charge of first-degree statutory sodomy. Although Heaston was charged with only one count of the crime, state prosecuting attorney Andrea Hayes said there was evidence to suggest his actions occurred more than once.
The girl's mother and Heaston had been dating for several years and were living together when the incident occurred, Hayes said. Although the girl isn't related to Heaston, he and the girl's mother have two other children together.
"This individual was like a father to her," Hayes said. "Nothing will give her back her childhood."
Heaston's defense requested a retrial, saying that the selections of at least three jury members were unfair because their experiences with child molestation made them biased.
Although the dates and times in the girl's account of the event weren't always consistent, the prosecution used her statements as evidence after Ashton Eibel, a forensic interviewer at Rainbow House, said that young children often struggle with the concept of time.
As part of its argument for a retrial, the defense said that Eibel had no formal education in childhood development, childhood psychiatry or related fields and shouldn't be classified as an expert.
The prosecution said Eibel's experience working at the Rainbow House gave weight to her opinion.
The defense's motion for a retrial was denied.
Throughout the sentencing hearing, Heaston's mother, Jolietta Heaston, quietly contested the points Hayes made. When the judge denied the retrial and handed down the sentence, Heaston's family cried out together.
Jolietta Heaston stood up in protest and the other family members pulled her back down to her seat. As Heaston was led away, he looked back at his family members, some of whom were crying.
"I just think he shouldn't have gotten any time," Jolietta Heaston said. "He's good with kids. I trust him to babysit my own granddaughter."
Jolietta Heaston said her son is not guilty and that the family will appeal the case to a higher court.