Solicitation Of A Minor Plea Results In Two To Ten Year Sentence

Convicted of soliciting a minor via computer, Robert Hayes was sentenced in the Greenbrier County Circuit Court on Monday, December 13.

The Monday hearing was held for two reasons, as explained by Greenbrier County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dent.

“This matter was scheduled for today for purposes of the sentencing hearing,” said Dent. “There was also a motion filed to revoke bond incumbent to an arrest warrant by the state.”

Hayes, a Caldwell resident, was charged with soliciting a minor via computer following an incident on October 31, 2019. Hayes was allegedly using a social media application to converse with a 15-year-old, to whom he sent pictures of genitalia, according to the criminal complaint.

During the September 1, 2021, plea hearing, Assistant Prosecutor Bethany Burdette explained what the state would have expected to prove if the matter had gone to trial.

“About October 31 of 2019, Mr. Hayes was in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, and he used a computer to engage in an inappropriate act and a sexual act with a minor and someone he knew to be a minor,” explained Burdette. “The person presented themselves as 15 years old and the goal of the communication was to engage in sexual intercourse, which was prohibited by law. Mr. Hayes was 44 at the time.”

At first during the September hearing, Hayes objected to this story, saying “no” when asked if it was “substantially correct” by Dent. He spoke of possibility being set up by an ex-employee, with whom he had previously fought. Despite this, Hayes’ defense attorney, Martha Fleshman, felt this defense was not likely to succeed at trial, and Hayes agreed to move forward with the plea after consulting with his attorney.

Ultimately, Hayes entered a guilty plea to the felony offense of solicitation of a minor via computer and the lesser included offense of traveling to engage the minor in prohibited sexual activity.

First on Monday, the court considered the alleged bond violations – testing positive for methamphetamines during a presentence investigation meeting and failure to register as a sex offender in Monroe County.

“We would ask for the time that he has spent in jail since the warrant was issued, based on this motion to revoke his bond, to be used as a sanction,” explained Defense Attorney Martha Fleshman. “He would waive both the initial hearing and the evidentiary hearing, recognizing that he has the right to those hearings and initial hearing would be to find probable cause and the evidentiary hearing would be to determine whether he actually did violate conditions of his bond. If he waives those hearings, then we would find that he did violate conditions of his bond. His bond would be revoked based on that, and then I hope that will proceed through sentencing to take care of that.”

When asked by Dent, Hayes explained the bond violations.

“I was stuffed in, I had a hard time, at the beginning, getting weaned off of it through Day Report,” Hayes said. “… We were just getting to the purpose of my triggers and not triggers and how to control [them]. I had a death in the family and that kind of triggered me for that one time. The failure to register was a confusion. [When I was] in jail, they had told me that I had to register, then they said not to register. As soon as [someone] told me, I made an appointment to register, but I was already in violation.”

Fleshman also spoke on her client’s behalf.

“[My client has] also indicated at one point that he would like to have some treatment for his substance abuse issues,” Fleshman said. “He has now been in jail long enough that he is completely detoxed, is thinking clearly, and is ready to get back out of jail and turn his life around and get things back on the right track. … The report from the psychologist, after having done an evaluation, indicates that as long as he had some sort of substance abuse treatment, and that was indicated to be outpatient, that he should be a reasonable candidate, the words that they used, for community based supervision and treatment. … He is not a threat or a danger to society in general. I would ask that the recommendation that was included in the plea agreement will be followed by the court, that my client’s sentence will be served as a period of probation with whatever conditions you deem appropriate.”

The prosecutor’s office, represented by Burdette, also spoke to sentencing.

“The state is recommending that Mr. Hayes’ sentence be suspended … for probation, or other alternative sentencing,” said Burdette. “This will be the second sanction for Mr. Hayes. Despite those two sanctions, I still believe he could be a good candidate for alternative sentencing. I hope that it works. I hope that we don’t come back here for another sanction for any violations of probation. I hope that Mr. Hayes stays out of prison. I’m willing to give him that chance and we’re willing to work with him.”

Hayes himself also asked the recommendations be followed.

“I’m ready to get back on track,” Hayes said. “Like [my attorney] said already, I’ve been here long enough, I’m clean now. I don’t want it anymore. At the time of stress, I didn’t know how to handle it. I was getting to the point with the therapist, at the time, to learn how to control it, what my triggers were, and what to do to stop it. [I’ve] thought about that and things that I’ve taken up. [Doing] things like crossword puzzles or going out and doing something active to get my mind off of things. I don’t want it no more. I just want to go talk to the therapist, again, to go on the right track, and get my life back together.”

Despite the recommendations, Dent did not move forward with an alternative sentence.

“ According to the psychological evaluation, it indicates that you would be an appropriate candidate for community-based supervision and treatment. However, the substance abuse issues would have to be treated aggressively in order for you to be appropriate for community placement. Given the nature of the charge before the court, your failure to record timely to the first interview with the probation department, your failure to register as a sex offender timely within Monroe County. After we’ve gone over that, in open court, [you failed] the drug screen at the time of your presentence interview, as well as subsequently on November 2, 2021. … In your case [twice] the state has filed a motion to revoke bond. I do not find you to be a candidate for an alternative sentence or probation in this case.”

Dent then imposed sentence.

“Given the nature of this case and the failures that I’ve indicated, I’m going to sentence you to the penitentiary of this state for an indeterminate period of not less than two years, no more than 10 years,” Dent said. “You will receive credit for 55 days. I am not going to impose any fine. … Noting the substance abuse history, I will, in the sentencing order, do a referral to the [Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for State Prisoners Program], so that you might receive some assistance regarding substance abuse.”

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