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Jury finds man guilty of Jessica's Law charge

LARNED — A 59-year-old Osage City man was found guilty of a Jessica’s Law offense at the conclusion of a three-day jury trial in Pawnee County District Court Thursday. A jury of seven men and five women deliberated for approximately one hour Thursday afternoon, before returning a guilty verdict against Roy Gene Hill on the charge of aggravated indecent liberties of a child under the age of 14.

According to testimony provided at trial, on Feb. 10, 2019, the Pawnee County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call at approximately 5 a.m. to respond to a possible sexual assault of a minor at a residence in Garfield. Once at the residence, the responding officers were advised that the reporting parties’ 13-year-old granddaughter had been awakened in her bedroom at approximately 2 a.m. by a man touching her inappropriately. The girl told the officers she recognized the assailant as being her grandparents’ house guest. Hill had apparently been staying on the family’s couch for several weeks. 

The teenager testified that after the assault occurred, she was too scared to leave her room, as she would have to pass the defendant to get to her grandmother’s room. She had attempted to call and text her grandmother several times, but her grandmother did not wake up for more than an hour.

Hill was arrested at the scene without incident and has been in the custody of the Pawnee County Sheriff since Feb. 10, 2019.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation conducted the follow-up investigation.

Hill previously entered a plea of no contest on Dec. 16, 2021, to a second charge of failing to register as a sex offender with the PCSO.

Pawnee County Attorney Douglas McNett, who presented the State’s case, noted that under the Kansas Offender Registration Act, offenders are required to notify the local sheriff if they remain in a county for more than three days. 

At the time, Hill was subject to lifetime registration due to a previous aggravated indecent liberties conviction in an incident in Neosho County in 2002.

Pursuant to a pretrial order, the trial jury was not informed of Hill’s prior sex conviction, nor his duty to register, McNett said.

Hill was represented by Natalie Randall, Dodge City. Defense argued that law enforcement rushed to judgment and conducted an insufficient investigation.

The jury trial was the first in the 24th Judicial District since the pandemic shutdown. COVID protocols were in place throughout the trial.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 24 at 2 p.m.

Jessica’s Law explained

As explained by Norton Hare, an Overland Park legal firm serving Kansas and Missouri, a Jessica’s Law offense is a sexual crime not governed by the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Grid. Crimes outside the scope of the Sentencing Guidelines Grid are typically referred to as “off-grid” crimes in Kansas.

Jessica’s Law, which is in place in almost every state in the country, is designed to render harsh punishments for child sex offenders. The Kansas Legislature passed its version of Jessica’s Law signed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2006.

Under Jessica’s Law, a first-time offender with no prior criminal history will serve a mandatory minimum of 25 years without possibility of parole when convicted of a specified sexual assault on a child under the age of 14 if the convicted person was over 18 at the time the crime was committed.

If a previous conviction is present, the convicted offender faces a life term in prison, with a mandatory minimum of not less than 40 years. More than two priors will incur a sentence of 40 years without the possibility of parole.

If reason exists to depart from the severe punishment of Jessica’s Law, a sentencing judge can refer back to the Sentencing Grid as a “downward departure.” Examples that could compel a judge to make a downward departure include: no prior criminal activity; extreme mental or emotional duress by the defendant; acting under duress while dominated by another person; the mental capacity of the defendant to understand the criminality of his or her acts; and the age of the defendant at the time of the crime.