By Linda Cicoira
There was a delay Monday in pronouncing punishment for a 77-year-old Exmore father for crimes against his daughter – who was the victim of incestuous sex offenses that occurred decades ago.
Roy Kellam James was set to be sentenced in Northampton Circuit Court Monday for two of seven felonies that occurred between 1978 and 1982. Testimony at the trial revealed he abused his only biological child every chance he got from the time she was four years old until she was 15. Those in authority, who could have helped her back then, either ignored what was going on or refused to do anything about it.
Ordinarily, the name of the victim of a sex crime would not be disclosed in a news story. In the case of incest, the identification would be obvious by the mention of the crime. Stacie James gave her permission for Shore Daily News to use her name so the facts could be disclosed. She was satisfied with the plea bargain her father made with Commonwealth’s Attorney Beverly Leatherbury. It brought justice and kept the 56-year-old woman from having to testify.
James pleaded guilty in July. After hearing the “horrific” details, Judge W. Revell Lewis III said if the victim hadn’t agreed to the bargaining arrangement, he would never have accepted it. “The court is going to respect the victim’s wishes.” At that point, Lewis ordered a long-form presentence report and a psychosexual evaluation.
Last week, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw the pleas. In a last minute motion Monday, his lawyer, Kelly Vasta, of Norfolk, asked the court to allow her to withdraw as James’ attorney because she could be called as a witness for the plea motion. The attorney refused to explain why she would be called because by doing so she would breach lawyer/client confidentiality. She said she asked for an opinion about this move from the state bar’s board of ethics and was told she should withdraw. This advice was sent in an email she received late Monday morning, just hours before the case came up.
“He can’t just change his mind,” said the judge. Is there a “misconception about the nature of the charge? Fear? Was his plea made involuntarily? Nothing was said about any of these things …. Are you saying he just wants to change his mind now? Is there some big surprise here?” the judge asked in one long question.
The prosecutor said the defense lawyer’s testimony would be hearsay and therefore inadmissible. “It wasn’t alleged in the motion that she gave him bad advice,” the Commonwealth’s Attorney said. “He admitted he was pleading guilty because he was guilty … the commonwealth is severely prejudiced” by these motions.
“Some of it is the fear,” the defense lawyer admitted. Vasta also cryptically said it was “legal advice that I gave him” — “it was the reverse of inadvisability.” Vasta said her withdrawing would allow James to “advance a reasonable defense. Judge, I find myself in a difficult predicament. This is uncharted territory for me … He has the right to call me as his witness.”
The judge and the lawyers acknowledged there was no physical evidence to convict James and that the victim’s testimony was key to getting a conviction.
Lewis said he had no choice but to delay because of the defense lawyer’s “lack of diligence.” The judge scolded her for waiting so long to file the motions. There could have been an end to this 30-plus-year-old case “in 2021.” Now people “will not have to carry it on to 2022,” he said. If the judge hadn’t delayed the sentencing, the court of appeals would find that the judge should ordered a continuance, he said.
The judge said the agreement had been “set out crystal clear. It was spot on. It didn’t just state that the defendant would be sentenced according to guidelines, it stated what the guidelines were” — eight to 21 plus years.
The victim put her head down and starting crying because of the delay. She was soon led out of the courtroom by the prosecutor and followed by several other family members and friends.
The judge allowed the defense lawyer to withdraw from the case and appointed Brandon Wilder to serve as James’ new lawyer. The judge did not allow James to withdraw the pleas. The psychosexual evaluation hadn’t been filed because of that motion. Lewis called for it to be filed. He asked Leatherbury to work with Wilder to set a new sentencing date.