LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge struggled Tuesday with whether to accept a Greers Ferry man’s guilty plea to a charge of trying to entice a minor to engage in sexual acts, after the man admitted to only part of the allegations.
But after James Darren Jarrett said he trusted the advice of his attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr., and wanted to go through with the plea, despite the fact that the charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison without parole, U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. accepted the plea.
Jarrett, 40, was facing a jury trial on the charge Monday if he hadn’t pleaded guilty, despite his initial hesitation to admit fully to the facts behind the charge, as read aloud by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacy Williams.
Williams told the judge that if the case went to trial, she believed she could prove that on Nov. 8, 2016, Jarrett posted a Craigslist advertisement indicating indirectly that he was seeking sex with boys. She said that an undercover Faulkner County sheriff’s deputy responded to the ad, posing as a 14-year-old boy, and that during the conversation, Jarrett agreed to meet at a certain time and place to have sex with the boy.
But Jarrett didn’t show up, Williams said.
Williams said Jarrett later contacted the undercover officer again and the two eventually arranged a new meeting, this time at 2 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2017, in Guy. She said Jarrett was arrested when he arrived in his white Ford Explorer, as promised, with cigarettes and two cold Mountain Dews.
Hall interjected, saying that Jarrett had inadvertently sent a message to the officer that was in his draft folder agreeing to meet with the boy. Hall said Jarrett had been in a vehicle accident and was under the influence of hydrocodone, but, “he did in fact send that text message.”
The defense attorney said he believed that would enable prosecutors to prove every element of the charge to a jury, which must find that every element, or listed component, of a charge has been proven before convicting someone.
Moody asked Jarrett to explain what he did in his own words. Jarrett replied that he posted the ad, and that over the course of a day or two, he conversed with several people to whom he gave his phone number.
He said that right before he was scheduled to meet the first time with the boy, he reviewed the email exchange and decided “I didn’t want to go,” so he didn’t show up.
He said that after his car accident in January, he had been conversing with another “young guy” about meeting in Guy for the purpose of having sex, but didn’t meet him either.
He said he somehow accidentally sent out several draft messages stored in his draft messages folder, including a message to the undercover officer, indicating he did want to meet with him after all.
Jarrett said the officer, who he thought was the other “young guy” with whom he had been discussing a meet-up, then messaged him while he was doing laundry and demanded to know where he was and if he was “standing him up again.”
“So I went to meet him,” Jarrett told the judge. “I obviously feel like I didn’t have the option to make a right or wrong decision.” He added that he had gotten message threads with the two people mixed up and “I didn’t have all the information,” such as how old the person was that he planned to meet with.
So, while he did attempt to entice a boy by posting the ad, he said, he didn’t intend to meet with a 14-year-old boy on the night that he drove to Guy for a meet-up.
“I’m not going to accept the plea,” Moody said, after hearing Jarrett’s explanation. “He said he didn’t plan on showing up and was out of his mind on drugs when he did, so he’s going to trial.”
Jarrett told the judge, “I think they could prove it at a jury trial, though.”
While Jarrett huddled with Hall to further discuss the potential plea, Williams reviewed with other prosecutors whether Jarrett’s admission that he initially agreed to meet with someone he thought was a 14-year-old boy constituted a “substantial step” toward proving the attempted enticement charge
Williams then read into the record parts of the conversation between Jarrett and the undercover officer, to give the judge some perspective on the facts that would emerge at trial, and Hall said, “We agree that’s enough” for a jury to convict Jarrett.
Moody then asked Jarrett specific questions, and he replied that he did send the text messages and that he did intend “on that date,” Nov. 8 2016, to entice a person he knew was younger than 18, although “it was not my intent” to actually meet with a child.
“Why’d you go later?” Moody asked.
“I thought it was a different person. I thought it was a different young man at UCA I’d stood up before.”
Moody accepted the plea.
A sentencing date hasn’t been set.