A Belpre man, accused of having sex with a 14-year-old boy, would be headed to prison if not for recent changes in the Ohio sentencing statute for fourth and fifth-degree felony offenses.
"At this point, the court does not have available to it the option to send you to prison. Let me be clear, if the court had that option, you would be going to prison," said Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Susan Boyer at Tuesday's sentencing.
Nicholas "Tanner" Leach, 24, of 223 Maple St., Belpre, was sentenced Tuesday to 180 days in the Washington County Jail, the final 90 of which can be served at the SEPTA Correctional Facility. He was also sentenced to five years of community control sanctions.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
Nicholas “Tanner” Leach, right, waits to be escorted to the Washington County Jail. He was sentenced Tuesday to 180 days in jail on a fourth-degree felony charge of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.
Leach pleaded guilty on Aug. 6 to a fourth-degree felony of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. Leach is accused of fostering a relationship with a 14-year-old boy, which built up to a sexual encounter in April.
Under Ohio House Bill 86, which went into effect Sept. 30, 2011, those found guilty of fourth or fifth-degree felonies must be sentenced to community control, rather than prison, if it is a first felony offense, which did not cause physical harm to the victim or involve the use of a firearm.
"This will be the first time the court has been so constrained in this situation," said Boyer.
However, any violation of his community control sanctions will land Leach in prison, said Boyer.
Leach, making a statement on his behalf, expressed remorse during Tuesday's sentencing.
"I am here to say that I am sorry, ashamed, and afraid. I am sorry for the harm I have done to all the people involved....I am ashamed of myself for the things I have done, for the shame that I brought on my family and friends. I am afraid for my future because I know that my actions will always haunt me wherever I go," said Leach before his sentencing.
Leach will be required to register as a Tier One sex offender for the next 15 years.
Speaking more to Leach than to the court, the victim's mother made a statement Tuesday.
"If you are sitting there thinking ... on the lives you have destroyed, think again. You are nothing to us. Seems like the only life you have destroyed is your own," said the victim's mother.
She also said that she is working on forgiving the defendant, and admonished him to seek help while he is locked up.
"I have a 15-year-old son at home who is much stronger and more forgiving than I am, a much better person that you and I will ever be. And if he is willing to forgive you, I guess I have to at least try," she said shakily, as she held back tears.
Leach was led away in handcuffs to the Washington County Jail, where he will stay until Dec. 14, at which point he will be transferred to SEPTA.