Not exactly a slap on the wrist

Kraigen Grooms recently received a 10-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to engaging in a lascivious act with a child. Grooms, then 16-years-old, livestreamed himself engaging in sexual activities with a 1-year-old girl. Those watching the stream recorded it without Grooms knowledge and shared it, which eventually led to Grooms arrest. Investigators posted pictures of Grooms, then labeled as “John Doe”, in an attempt to find him. A Facebook group run by Tim Caya featured a “wanted” poster with Grooms’s pictures. Some of Grooms’s relatives saw it and reported him to Homeland Security. The federal officers arrested Grooms in 2014 andcharged with a second degree sexual assault.

Those are the basic facts of the case. What happened in the media was “TEEN RAPES BABY, GETS SUSPENDED SENTENCE!”

The headlines and social media backlash that followed display people’s worst impulses. Instead of anyone looking at why Grooms received the sentence, people went to their narratives: Pedophiles should be shot. White male privilege lets another rapist off. Fire the judge.

The media did no better. They reported the minimum amount of information, essentially the sentence and prior charges, and a great deal of misinformation. Their misinformation was so bad that an attorney from the Iowa state office released a statement clarifying why Grooms received the plea deal.

What I want to do is break down the facts of the case so people can understand why Grooms is not in prison.

According to the evidence, Grooms did not specifically set out to rape a toddler. He actually did not commit rape at all. The acts he did, based on the limited information available, sound like he may have fondled the girl or engaged in some other sexual activity. However, it did not appear he penetrated her. Nothing he did is acceptable in any way, however, it is not rape.

It also is not something Grooms intended to do. Gary Oldenburger, the county attorney for Wapello County, explained in his press release:

Grooms, who was 16 when the incident occurred, had been tricked into believing that he was interacting online with a female his own age, and performed the abuse at the pornographer’s request, believing the request was from the teenage female. The pornographers were the ones who described the abuse as “so hot” and while they attempted to convince Grooms to commit additional abuse, Grooms did not.

That is the opposite of the claims in the media, which assert that Grooms not only targeted the 1-year-old girl, but also sought to assault a 3-year-old boy. Oldenburger stated that this is inaccurate. He also stated that “within hours of Grooms’ arrest, the United States Attorney’s office declined to prosecute grooms, because he was a juvenile at the time of the offense.”

This makes all the claims about the judge letting a “pedophile” go completely moot. Grooms is not a pedophile. He has shown no sexual interest in children. He was evaluated by a state psychologist and found to be at low of re-offending and a good candidate for rehabilitation. Grooms is not a predator. He does appear, however, to be incredibly gullible.

Grooms also did not walk away with no jail time. Again, this is the media and social media assumption, but the facts show otherwise. Grooms was arrested and charged as an adult. The state placed him in a juvenile facility until he turned 18, and then transferred him to an adult jail where he remained until July 2016 when the court accepted his guilty plea.

According to the documents, Grooms spent 860 days in jail awaiting trial. That is roughly 2 years and 4 months. That is a fairly long time to wait for a trial. The reason for the lengthy wait is that the state was trying to build its case. They placed Grooms on $100,000 bail, which he could not afford, and then took their time. That is not only unethical; it is unconstitutional. The state cannot hold someone for years until they can come up with enough evidence to go to trial. So part of the reason for the plea deal is to prevent any sentence being overturned because of the repeated delays in the case.

Another reason is that due to the length of time before trial, Grooms would already be eligible for early release.Oldenburger stated:

Legal and practical considerations limiting the length of time Grooms would serve. Grooms was 16 years old at the time of the offense. Recent Iowa Supreme Court cases have eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles, and the Court’s rulings seem to indicate that they disfavor long prison sentences for juveniles. A long prison sentence would likely have been overturned on appeal. Iowa’s prison system is overcrowded by more than 1,1,00 inmates. Grooms had serve 860 days in jail. Inmates receive statutory earned time of 1.2 days for every day served, giving him another 1,032 days of credit. If he had been sentenced to prison, with credit for time served he would likely have paroled in a very short time.

This does not mean Grooms walks away with nothing. He is required to register as a sex offender for life. He is on parole for life. He must submit his DNA for a database to track sex offenders. This effectively prevents him from attending college, getting a decent job, or engaging in a normal social life. One Google search of his name will reveal everything.

Grooms faces a harsher sentence than most women who rape children repeatedly for years. So he is not getting a pass. To prove this point, first-time juvenile offenders are typically charged as juveniles. However, in order to get a harsher sentence, prosecutors charged Grooms as an adult. This is most unusual, particularly given that the federal government did not want to prosecute because he was a juvenile.

This too explains the plea deal. If Grooms went to trial and was convicted, his lawyer would win the appeal and the case would likely be dismissed with prejudice. The handling of this case is so bad that the plea deal is the only outcome the state could get. To this point, Oldenburger noted:

Availability of witnesses. Certain key witnesses in the case were unwilling to testify. These witnesses reside out of state, and it would be difficult if not impossible to force them to appear for trial. Even if they did, they may not provide helpful testimony.

Those witnesses include people who had access to the video. Without their testimony, the video would be inadmissible and the state would have no case.

This is a case the federal government passed on that the state of Iowa chose to prosecute and then bungled. The plea deal is to essentially cover up the state’s mishandling of the case. Grooms should not have been charged as an adult, should not have spent 860 days waiting for trial, and should never have been placed in an adult jail.

The latter is something that goes unmentioned, but I suspect plays a larger role. We know what people do to juveniles placed in adult jails. We know what inmates do to those accused of sex offenses. I cannot say for certain, yet I would not be surprised if the plea deal is also a part of keeping Grooms quiet about any incidents that occurred while he was in jail.

The other element leading to the deal is that the victim’s parents did not want Grooms incarcerated:

Consideration for the wishes of the victim and the victim’s family. One of the most significant factors affecting the outcome of this case was that the parents of the victim did not wish Grooms to go to prison or serve significant jail time. Their primary concern was that he receive treatment. While the Wapello County Attorney’s Office does not allow victims to dictate how we prosecute a case, the victim’s concerns and desires are taken into consideration in every case, and they had a strong influence in this case.

These are the factors that led to the plea deal. This is essentially an attempt for the state to save face after over-prosecuting the case and delaying it to build a case. It should never have gotten to this point. Grooms is a first-time offender who was manipulated by other people. The proper response to that would be monitoring and rehabilitation, not imprisonment. Even the lifetime parole and offender registering is overkill. By the state’s own admission, Grooms is unlikely to re-offend. Keep in mind, there are adults who prey on children for years who do not end up with the same penalties.

This is not to say that what Grooms did is not wrong. It is. He deserves some punishment. He also needs to be monitored because he appears to be easily manipulated. I do not think, however, he needs to be in jail. The facts of the case do not point to a person out of control or predatory. They point to someone who made a one-time mistake. To me, the proper sentence would be a couple of years in jail, which Grooms served while waiting for trial. There is simply no reason to continue to hold him when he is treatable.

There is another aspect to this case: Grooms’s gullibility. It is rare for someone to just be that easily tricked. It is more likely that something like this happened before. The state may want to delve into Grooms’s upbringing to determine whether anyone groomed and abused him, because that is the usual reason someone engages in this behavior at someone else’s request.

I do not imagine that this post will change people’s minds. People react negatively to sex offenses against children, as they should. However, they often do not consider the facts of the case. They hear “child raped” and go for extremes. Sometimes that is the appropriate response. That does not appear to apply to this case. Grooms, by the state of Iowa’s own admission, is not a predator or pedophile.

What he did was wrong and he should be punished. Yet we must make sure the punishment fits the crime. This was a teenager tricked by highly manipulative pedophiles into committing sex crimes on a toddler. That is not the same as someone deciding to rape a toddler, record it, and post it online for money to use to buy a laptop.

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