A 10-year sentence for a man convicted of rape, a case in which audio and video of the crimes presented to jurors, “deprecates the seriousness of the defendant’s crime,” prosecutors say in court papers asking a judge to reconsider the penalty.
A hearing is set for Jan. 23 in the case of Antonio Demetrius Jones, 48, after the state filed the motion Dec. 16.
Jones was convicted Nov. 17 on two counts of the third-degree rape of a Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office confidential informant who went to him Jan. 13, 2021, to buy meth while wearing equipment that recorded audio and video.
Jones missed that equipment as he searched the informant when she arrived at his Texas Avenue home that day. The full video was played for jurors during the trial, showing Jones twice forcing the victim to perform oral sex.
Rapides Parish Assistant District Attorney Brian Cespiva asked 9th Judicial District Court Judge Chris Hazel to sentence Jones to the maximum on each count, 25 years, and to have those sentences served consecutively. Under Louisiana law, that meant Jones would serve 50 years without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.
Instead, Hazel sentenced Jones to 10 years on each count, to be served concurrently, or at the same time. He did not give reasons for his ruling.
At the time, Cespiva objected to the ruling and was asked after the hearing about the kind of message the sentence sends to rape victims, especially since he was able to present the graphic video to jurors, some of whom clearly were uncomfortable as it played.
One local professional who works with rape victims believes there won’t be a change in how offenders are sentenced until society changes how it views victims of sexual assault. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, someone in America is sexually assaulted roughly every minute, but only 25 of every 1,000 of those who commit such acts will spend time in prison.
Reaction to the ruling
Cespiva spoke about his disappointment immediately after the Dec. 12 sentencing, saying he respects Hazel even though he disagrees with the judge’s ruling.
“All we can do is continue to press on and prosecute cases,” Cespiva said. “So many rapes go unreported, and it’s so rare to actually have one on video for the whole world and the jury and the judge to see. We were obviously hoping for a better result.”
Within hours of the ruling, though, Cespiva said the state would ask for the sentence to be reconsidered. The motion notes Jones’ five felony convictions in Mississippi and how he fled Louisiana to that state before his initial trial date of Oct. 17.
Jones later was found and arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, then returned to Alexandria for trial. Jury selection took two days, but testimony lasted just one day, ending with the guilty verdicts.
The motion states Hazel listed multiple aggravating factors and no mitigating factors when considering Jones’ sentence.
Antonio Jones houses:Alexandria man found guilty of raping Rapides Sheriff Office confidential informant
Antonio Jones sentencing:Man convicted of raping Rapides Sheriff’s Office informant sentenced to 10 years
The 10-year sentence “deprecates the seriousness of the defendant’s crime, particularly in light of the circumstances surrounding the rapes and the defendant’s prior criminal history,” it reads.
The motion also calls Jones’ sentence inconsistent with similar convictions in Louisiana, citing three other cases in which defendants got the maximum and one life sentence because the defendant was classified as a habitual offender.
Rape still a cultural taboo
Beth Ponthier is a training specialist at the Family Justice Center of Central Louisiana who works with victims of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence. She provides training on the subject for law enforcement, health-care workers, educators and others.
She said she could not recall any local defendant receiving more than 10 or 15 years in prison in a rape case, unless the victim was a child, and does not remember people clamoring for justice on behalf of any rape or sexual assault victim.
“We are essentially, as a society, enabling lenient sentences,” she said. “We are enabling, to some degree, the offender.”
Sexual assault and rape are still taboo subjects for many people, especially in the South, she said.
It’s still common for people to question a victim, asking why they put themselves in whatever situation led to the crime. Ponthier said victims have already asked themselves the same thing, but she also said people need to understand that most of these crimes aren’t committed by strangers.
“These are people you know,” she said.
Pressures victims face
Perpetrators often coerce and sometimes threaten victims. After a rape, they can manipulate victims into not reporting what happened.
Victims doubt themselves and doubt that others will believe the rape was not consensual, said Ponthier. It causes them to retreat, to chalk it up as a life experience and try to move on with their lives, she said.
That attitude takes the responsibility away from the offender. “It’s essentially enabling an offender to do it again,” she said.
And, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, most offenders aren’t reported. In statistics it credits to the US Department of Justice, only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults get reported to the police.
Ponthier, a former crime-victims advocate for the Alexandria Police Department, agreed it is rare to have video evidence of a rape or sexual assault, like in the Jones case. It can counter what she calls the elephant in almost every such case − the idea of consent.
Although it’s addressed in state law, it still means different things to different people, she said. The concept of justice is much the same.
Ponthier said offenders should pay for their crimes, but also tries to make sure victims understand justice and closure might be very different from what they initially imagine.
She said advocates try to help victims by explaining what happens in the legal system and helping them focus on their own healing and self worth, no matter what kind of sentence an offender receives.
“If you base healing from a traumatic event like that on the justice system, you will be sadly disappointed every time.”
This article originally appeared on Alexandria Town Talk: Prosecutors contest convicted rapist’s 10-year sentence as too lenient