PARIS, Texas - A teenager who has profound mental disabilities was sentenced to 100 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges in a sex abuse case involving his 6-year-old neighbor.
Aaron Hart, 18, of Paris, was arrested and charged after a neighbor found him fondling her stepson in September. The teen pleaded guilty to five counts, including aggravated sexual assault and indecency by contact, and a jury decided his punishment.
Lamar County Judge Eric Clifford decided to stack the sentences against Hart after jurors settled on two five-year terms and three 30-year terms, The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday. The judge said neither he nor jurors liked the idea of prison for Hart but they felt there was no other option.
"In the state of Texas, there isn't a whole lot you can do with somebody like him," Clifford said.
Diagnosed as mentally disabled
Hart has an IQ of 47 and was diagnosed as mentally disabled as a child. He never learned to read or write and speaks unsteadily.
Despite being a target of bullies, he was courteous, well-behaved and earned money by doing chores for neighbors, supporters said. His parents say he'd never acted out sexually.
"He couldn't understand the seriousness of what he did," said his father, Robert Hart. "I never dreamed they would think about sending him to prison. When they said 100 years — it was terror, pure terror, to me."
Jurors said they sent the judge notes during deliberations in February, asking about alternatives to prison, but didn't get a clear answer. They believed the judge would order concurrent sentences, jurors said.
District Attorney Gary Young said he sympathized with Hart's situation but stands by his decision to prosecute on five counts. Prosecutors commonly pursue several charges for a single incident to see which the jury will support.
Diversion program not an option
Young said a diversion program was not an option since the law doesn't allow that for serious felonies.
"I hope people will remember he committed a violent sexual crime against a little boy," he said.
Hart's appellate attorney, David Pearson, said the court-appointed doctor did the bare minimum to assess competency and ran tests geared for mental illness, not mental retardation.