CHARLESTON -- An East Prairie man has been sentenced to eight years in prison for assaulting his grandson.
Raymond Wheatley, 66, was sentenced Thursday to eight years in the Missouri Department of Corrections for first degree domestic assault.
The sentence couldn't have come at a more appropriate time, according to Mary Anne Clayton, victims advocate for Mississippi County. "October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month," she said.
As the defense entered a motion for a change of judge in March, the sentence was handed down by Judge William Cope, senior judge of the 36th Judicial Circuit in Butler County.
The case was initially handled by Judge T. Lynn Brown in the associate court and then Circuit Court Judge David Dolan.
"The charges were filed Jan. 15," said Mississippi County Prosecuting Attorney Darren Cann who represented the state. "He waved his preliminary hearing and it was bound over to circuit court. It was originally set for trial in September. At that point, his attorney indicated he was willing to plead guilty."
The victim is in his 20s, according to Cann.
"They got into an argument at which time Wheatley pulled out a knife and started swinging it and cut him in the neck area," Cann said.
The argument was related to allegations of sexual misconduct that Wheatley had previously been charged with. Those charges were dropped, however, after the victim in that case declined to pursue it.
The sentence for the domestic assault was handed down following the preparation of a sentence advisory report prepared by the Probation and Parole Board.
"Probation and Parole have sentencing guidelines prepared by the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission," Cann explained.
Cann said the sentencing guidelines consider criminal history on a scale of 1 to 5 where a 1 is no felonies and a 5 is several felony convictions.
"He had no previous felony convictions, so it is essentially his first offense," Cann said.
The sentence advisory report offers three recommendations: a baseline presumptive recommendation along with a mitigating recommendation and aggravating recommendation. Factors which would indicate using the aggravating recommendation include if the crime was particularly cruel or heinous while the factors which call for the mitigating recommendation are things like remorse shown by the defendant or that restitution was made.
"These recommendations are just that -- recommendations. They are not mandatory yet but things to consider when sentencing. The mitigating recommendation would have been probation. The aggravating recommendation would have been five years," Cann said. "Wheatley's attorney, Patty Tucka, was arguing for probation due to his age and his health problems and his connection to the community. He had been a lifelong resident. I recommended that he serve 10 years. To ask for anything less would have sent the wrong message to the community."
While Judge Cope did not give 10 years, the sentence was significantly longer than recommended for someone with no prior felonies.
"I would have liked to have seen 10 but I'm satisfied with the eight-year sentence," Cann said. "It is a sad situation but you just can't ignore it."
Clayton was also pleased by the outcome.
"I think it's justice," she said. "The victim has been validated."
Clayton said this case is noteworthy not only for the severe sentence but also because it illustrates that domestic assault is not always what we think it is.
"With domestic violence we typically think husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend but the law also includes any family member," Clayton said. "The majority of cases I see are husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend but I'd say maybe 10 to 15 percent involve parents, siblings, children -- and of course that is just what is reported. These other crimes are probably underreported but I don't think the dynamics are different -- it's a power and control issue."
"I wouldn't say I get many, but we get a fair amount where it is a family or household member," Cann said.
He said "a majority, but not an overwhelming majority" of domestic assault cases that end up in his office involve a man charged after a fight between a man and a women who are in a relationship.
"I even have a fair amount of the other way around -- a fight between a man and women and the woman is charged," Cann said.
Clayton said domestic assaults are among her most difficult.
"When it's a family situation it's so complicated," Clayton said. "When there's a violence between family members, often times one side or the other is going to get pressure from other family members."
Even more difficult for victims are those cases which go to trial.
"I think it's always difficult for a victim to testify against a family member," Clayton said.