After 10 months in the local jail, 48-year-old James Carlton Benkelman of Amissville – who’d been indicted on 73 felony charges related to possessing child pornography and molesting two young boys – was given an opportunity to speak before his sentencing in Rappahannock County Circuit Court Monday (May 7).
Benkelman removed a folded piece of paper from his pinstriped jumpsuit pocket, and through fits of tears, read a heartbreaking apology to the victims.
Benkelman, who worked as an arborist for an area landscaping company until he was arrested last July at his Rappahannock Lakes home, was sentenced Monday to 101 years in state prison on 11 felony counts of possession and reproduction of child pornography. He pleaded guilty to the charges Feb. 13.
In exchange for the pleas, Benkelman received 32 years of active prison time. On good behavior, he will serve 85 percent of that term, or about 27 years, meaning he’ll be released at age 76. As part of the plea agreement, the remaining 62 charges – including several counts of aggravated sexual assault involving two young boys – were dropped.
Before Judge Herman A. Whisenant handed down the prison sentence, Benkelman asked to make a statement.
“I apologize to everyone. I’m so sorry any of this got started. I especially apologize to [the two victims’] families, and pray that I haven’t caused any permanent harm to anyone,” Benkelman said, choking out his written statement through fits of sobbing and tears. “I hope someday they can forgive me, not for my sake, but for theirs. Please don’t let your hate for me affect others.”
Benkelman said that his mother died during the 10 months that he’s been in jail and that he was not able to attend her funeral. “I hope I can get out one day to help my father and my family, but I doubt it . . . I ask the court to please judge me as an individual, and not as a group of numbers.” Benkelman thanked his family for being a “great support.”
Judge Whisenant suspended 69 years of the 101-year sentence, for offenses related to the possession and reproduction of child pornography (the terms run consecutively). Upon release, Benkelman would have 20 years of supervised probation and no contact with any child under the age of 18 without the court’s permission. He was also ordered to pay $833.30 in restitution to the mother of one of the young victims, for transportation and counselling costs. The other victim’s family did not request restitution.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff said he agreed to drop the child molestation charges to protect the victims and their families – one of which was in the courtroom Monday. The minimum mandatory sentences on the pornography charges, Goff said, would “send him to prison more than likely for the rest of his life, without having to subject the victims to testifying in an open court.”
Goff said Benkelman’s defense had also reached a plea agreement with Page County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ken Alger related to sex abuse charges there. “I think that Benkelman chose wisely in pleading guilty [in Rappahannock] to the child pornography charges instead of challenging the child abuse charges. It would have been highly devastating to the victims and their families if they had to testify.”
The first charge of first-offense possession of child pornography carries a minimum of a one-year suspended jail sentence; the remaining 10 charges, involving reproduction of child pornography, carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in a state prison, six of those with a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.
The first child pornography charges (of the 11 to which he pleaded guilty Monday) emerged after a July 1 search of Benkelman’s home last summer by Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office and Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force investigators. The search allegedly turned up pornographic images of children on disks at Benkelman’s basement desk. Goff described the recovered images presented to him by investigators as “sickening.”
The investigation that followed the search led to 62 new felony child pornography and molestation charges against Benkelman, after two juveniles came forward.
“He’ll be in his late 70s when, and if, he gets out,” Goff said, noting Benkelman’s plea agreement in Page County on charges of forcible sodomy and other sexual assault charges – several of which can lead to a life sentence. In that case, Benkelman allegedly took one of the victims to a Page County RV park, where the boy was molested.
A bench trial for 20-year-old Julious Ceasar Lucas of Woodville, on 10 charges relating to two crime events last summer, was continued until 9 a.m. June 8. By that date, his attorney said she is confident a plea agreement will have been reached. Lucas is last of the four teenage codefendants in the Grand View Road arson case to await trial. The other three have pleaded guilty in the last two months to five felonies (including arson and conspiracy to commit arson) and two misdemeanor charges, and await sentencing. On Aug. 20, the boys – all former Rappahannock County High School students – allegedly broke into, partied in and burned down the weekend cabin of William Rowland, causing an estimated $275,000 in damage. Lucas also faces three charges related to the theft and illegal use of a credit card in July.
Thirty-year-old Jimmy Allen Kennedy Jr. of Amissville pleaded guilty to felonious possession of a schedule I/II drug and misdemeanor possession of an unauthorized distribution container, and was sentenced to five years in prison (with four years six months suspended) for the first offense and 12 months in jail (suspended) for the second. The drug charges originally emerged when oxycodone (Percoset) was found in Kennedy’s vehicle after an accident last July 24. The deferred charges were reopened against Kennedy when he failed to attend his pretrial probation meetings in Fauquier County.
Twenty-one-year-old Tyler Brown of Chester Gap was found guilty of possession of marijuana and sentenced to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a six month loss of license. Brown stood trial in Rappahannock County District Court Tuesday (May 1) in faded pinstriped prison pants, leg shackles and a white T-shirt with black Fauquier County Detention Center lettering.
Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Deputy Ronnie Dodson testified that on the night of March 16 he received an anonymous call to the Chester Gap Baptist Church parking lot, where two people were reported drinking and throwing trash. Dodson arrived to find no one, then received another anonymous call informing him that the individuals had moved to the back of a grey house near Sky Verge Lane in Chester Gap. After parking his cruiser on Sky Verge, Dodson got out and said he smelled burnt marijuana, an odor that he was able to detect based on his drug training, Dodson told the court.
As Dodson followed the sound of voices, near the back basement entrance of the house, he said he saw Brown and James Robert Williams of Chester Gap (who pleaded guilty to underage possession of alcohol earlier in court) sitting next to a 24-pack of Budweiser, and noticed a baggie of what he described as “green leaf material” on a stoop between the two.
Dodson said he watched Williams brush the bag aside and put his foot over it. When Dodson picked up the bag, he said that Brown admitted that it was his and that he’d bought it earlier in Fauquier County, but denied having smoked any marijuana that day.
Dodson presented two evidence bags, one containing the bag of leafy green material, the other containing a makeshift marijuana pipe made out of an aluminum soda can.
In closing, Goff presented Brown’s arrest history, which included marijuana possession arrests that occurred in Rappahannock in October 2010 and in Fauquier in May 2011 (Brown is still on probation for the Fauquier charge, which is why he was being held in Fauquier awaiting this trial). Based on the evidence presented, and Brown’s alleged confession, District Court Judge J. Gregory Ashwell found Brown guilty of possession of marijuana.