DOBSON — An Ararat man will spend a minimum of two years in prison in connection with a 2015 arrest on statutory sex offense charges.
Joch Anthony Southern, 24, of Pratt Road, Ararat, pleaded guilty to nine counts of taking indecent liberties with a child in a Surry County Superior Court hearing last week.
The charges were reduced from nine counts of the class B1 felony of statutory/sexual offense where the defendant is at least six or more years older than a 13-, 14- or 15-year-old victim.
Southern, who has no prior felony convictions, had also been charged with kidnapping, which is a class C felony. That charge was dismissed through the plea agreement.
The case appeared on the Superior Court calendar for this term with a notation that the appearance was for motions only with a jury trial scheduled to begin Monday Feb. 13.
The defendant instead decided to enter into a plea agreement offered by special prosecutor Mark Keeney, a Rockingham County assistant district attorney.
Keeney stated in court that the two sexual encounters between Southern, who was then 22, and a 15-year-old female victim occurred between April 1, 2015, and May 31, 2015.
The mother of the victim became aware of the situation and alerted the authorities, Keeney said.
The Dobson Police Department arrested Southern in August 2015.
In a statement released shortly after, Dobson Police Chief Shawn Myers said the suspect allegedly had been soliciting underage women on Facebook.
According to Myers, Southern drove the victim in his vehicle and due to the girl’s age and the crimes committed, the first-degree kidnapping charge was statutory.
No mention of the social media website was made in court Tuesday.
Keeney said Southern voluntarily gave statements confessing to the crimes.
The prosecutor said the victim and her mother were satisfied with the outcome of the plea arrangement.
“It’s been a hard time for them,” he said. “Like any mother, she wished Mr. Southern had received more time, more punishment.”
Defense attorney Chadwick Casstevens confirmed that Southern had given a video confession to the Dobson Police, adding that his client had been very cooperative with the investigation.
Though initially frightful of the situation, Southern had demonstrated maturity in the past several months, Casstevens said.
“He’s been very involved in this case, taken it very seriously,” the attorney said. “He believes this is a fair arrangement.”
Presiding Judge Stanley Allen accepted the plea.
“These are just tough cases all the way around,” he said. “It’s bad for all the sides.”
If the case had gone to trial, Southern would have been vulnerable to a much steeper penalty. Even when sentenced in the mitigated range, the minimum term for a single B1 felony is 144 months (12 years).
A trial may also have required the victim to testify in open court.
Allen said he appreciated the defendant’s willingness to resolve the cases and the state’s willingness to help the victim.
‘This is a fair resolution from what I know of cases,” the judge said, ordering Southern to report Feb. 13 to serve two consecutive 12- to 24-month sentences in the Department of Adult Corrections.
Allen ordered the defendant to serve two consecutive suspended sentences of 12 to 24 months and 48 months of supervised probation after his release from prison.
Southern must also register as a sex offender for 30 years after his release, but satellite monitoring will not be required.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.