by Ivan Foley
A judge’s decision on a sentence for a man who pled guilty to statutorily raping and sodomizing a 12-year-old girl left Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd noticeably displeased.
On Friday, Judge Lee Hull announced his sentencing decision in the case against Jacobus P. Swanepoel, 23, of Olathe, Ks.
Swanepoel pled guilty last month to two counts of statutory rape and two counts of statutory sodomy.
A sentencing hearing was held in late May. Hull deferred ruling on sentencing until Friday.
Hull’s decision was to order 100 days in jail and five years probation.
Zahnd sounded stunned.
“This is the most disappointed I have ever been in the outcome of a Platte County sentencing,” the prosecutor said.
Based on The Landmark’s review of recent sentencing decisions Hull has made in similar cases (detailed later in this article), it’s not difficult to see why Zahnd was unpleasantly surprised by the judge’s action in this case.
DETAILS OF THE CASE
According to the statement of probable cause filed with the court, the 12-year-old female and her aunt alleged to the Riverside Police Department on Aug. 3, 2010 that the young girl had been raped by Swanepoel.
Swanepoel, age 20 at the time the crimes were committed in 2010, on three occasions came to Platte County to have sex with the sixth grade girl.
Swanepoel is originally from South Africa. Court papers indicate he came to the U.S. in about 2005 on a student visa. He faces deportation when he is released from jail in 100 days, authorities said, so the five years probation will not become a factor.
Swanepoel has immediate family in the United States, and aunts and uncles in South Africa, authorities say.
Court papers indicate that Swanepoel and the victim met while chatting in an online chat room in June 2010. The victim had set up a profile indicating she was 17. She and Swanepoel began having sexually explicit chat conversations, authorities say.
Swanepoel wanted to meet her and he drove to Kansas City in Platte County at around 2 a.m. on June 30, 2010, at which time the victim snuck out of her aunt’s house and got into his vehicle that was parked next to the residence.
According to court papers, the victim told Swanepoel that she was really 12 years old. She said he seemed uncomfortable but stayed and talked to her. Sexual activity occurred in the back seat of the vehicle, court documents indicate.
The second time Swanepoel met the victim for sex was around July 4, 2010 when he again drove to the residence in Platte County. This time Swanepoel drove the girl to the area of Barry Road and N. Congress, where he parked the vehicle.
A third occasion outlined in court documents occurred on July 17, 2010, when the victim was staying at her mother’s residence in Riverside. Swanepoel drove to the apartment and picked up the victim around 11:30 p.m. He drove to a vacant lot in Riverside where he parked and folded down the seats in the back of the vehicle.
Court documents detail reported oral sex and intercourse or attempted intercourse in each of the three incidents. Court papers indicate the victim reported the activity caused her physical pain during and after the act.
On Aug. 23, 2010, detectives contacted Swanepoel and conducted an interview. Court papers say Swanepoel confirmed that he had met the victim through a chat room and thought she was an adult. He said when he first picked her up and met her it was dark and he didn’t really see her face but he knew she was young. Swanepoel told detectives the victim told him she was 15 (the legal age for consensual sex in Missouri is 17) but he thought she could be younger.
According to court documents, Swanepoel admitted he had sex with the victim on their second and third meetings. He said he was not sure if he had penetrated her because she was so small and young. He also said the victim had performed oral sex on him, according to court documents.
“Swanepoel admitted that he knew it was illegal to have sex with a minor and regretted doing so,” according to the statement of probable cause filed by a Riverside police detective.
OTHER RECENT SENTENCING DECISIONS
Other recent sentencing decisions made by Judge Hull in similar cases are in stark contrast to his 100 days in jail/5 years probation ruling in the Swanepoel case.
The Landmark looked at three cases with somewhat similar circumstances.
In March of this year, Hull announced a sentence of five years in prison for Paulo Mesia. Mesia was 23 at the time he pled guilty to the Class C felony of statutory sodomy. His victim was 14 years old, two years older than the victim in the Swanepoel case. Mesia is a native of Peru but a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In November of last year, Hull announced a sentence of five years in prison for Chad Hough of Kansas City in Platte County, who pled guilty to statutory rape. Hough, 27 at the time of the crime, pled guilty in a crime with a 14-year-old female victim.
In another crime, in October of 2010 Hull sentenced Richard L. Volberding of Kansas City, age 50 at the time of his crime, to 10 years in prison for six counts of possession of child pornography. There was no victim in that case, only possession of the child porn.
While the 100 day sentence he ordered for Swanepoel appears out of character for the judge when compared to his decisions in other similar cases, there won’t be any comment coming from Hull. Judges typically interpret the rules of judicial conduct as prohibiting them from publicly commenting on such matters.
Some judges pontificate from the bench in the course of announcing their decisions in the courtroom, but Hull is not known for doing that.
Hull will turn age 70 on Sept. 1 at which time he’ll be forced to retire under the state’s mandatory retirement statute for judges. He is one of two Platte County judges who will be hitting age 70 very soon, the other being Judge Abe Shafer, who hits the mark on July 18.
As reported in The Landmark recently, according to showmecourts.org, Hull has received positive marks in performance evaluations.
Attorneys who responded to survey questions rated Judge Hull on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing “not at all” and 5 representing “completely.” Judge Hull received a rating above 4.0 in all categories, which is an indication that the attorneys have substantial respect for the judge’s skill and professionalism.
Judge Hull received his highest scores for maintaining and requiring proper order and decorum in the courtroom (4.67), efficiently managing his docket (4.65), being prepared for hearings and trials (4.57) and treating people who appear before him equally (4.53).
Judge Hull’s lower scores were for clearly explaining all oral decisions (4.08), giving reasons for his rulings (4.08), weighing all evidence fairly and impartially before rendering a decision (4.22) and allowing parties latitude to present their arguments (4.23).
The Performance Evaluation Committee reviewed survey responses submitted by Hull’s peers. Judge Hull received a perfect score of 5.00 in all categories.
The committee also reviewed survey responses submitted by jurors who were seated in jury trials before Hull. Jurors who responded to survey questions gave Hull an almost unanimously favorable rating in all categories, including acting with patience and dignity, clearly explaining court procedure, legal issues and the responsibilities of the jury, maintaining control over the courtroom, and being well-prepared for the case.
The committee also reviewed three written opinions submitted by Judge Hull that dealt with issues of criminal, civil and juvenile law and found that the opinions were well-reasoned and clearly written, and they appear to fulfill all of the necessary legal requirements.