Some think that there is no justice in Paris, Texas for the victims or the accused. This is a story of the accused. In September of 2008, 18yr-old Aaron Hart was charged with sexually assaulting a 7-year-old neighbor boy behind a tool shed. Hart confessed that he forced the boy to perform oral sex. The boy’s stepmother had discovered them both behind the shed with their pants lowered. Hart’s court-appointed attorney entered guilty pleas on his behalf to five felony counts and a jury recommended multiple sentences which Judge Eric Clifford ordered to run consecutively for a total of 100 years.
I am sure we can all agree what Hart did was wrong and disgusting. It has also been discovered that Hart has an IQ of 47 and he functions at the level of a 9yr-old. The boy he molested is mentally disabled as well. The judge and the jury never heard any expert testimony about Hart’s mental functioning, his capacity to understand his Miranda rights or his ability to assist in his own defense, because his attorney never subpoenaed any experts. Since he’s been in jail, Hart has been repeatedly raped according to his parents. The first assault allegedly by an inmate who is serving a sentence of eight years for sexual indecency with a child. That inmates mother was so disturbed she called Hart’s parents to apologize.
The town of 26,000 drew national civil rights protests in 2007 following news reports of a 14-year-old black girl who was sentenced to up to seven years in youth prison for shoving a hall monitor at her high school and a 14-year-old white girl who was given probation for the more serious crime of arson. More racial tensions erupted last year after the slaying of a 24-year-old black man and the arrest of two white men.
Allan Hubbard a spokesman for prosecutor Gary Young acknowledged that more serious sexual offenders have received much shorter sentences. He told the Paris News:
“You don’t want to send (Hart) to prison for life, but you cannot put him back on the street and worry about what he may do to some other kid. Speaking for myself and not for the district attorney’s office, this illustrates the need for some system between probation and life in prison for someone like this.”
Hart’s court-appointed attorney, Ben Massar, said he had recommended that Hart plead guilty only because he thought his client would be sentenced to probation.
“To me, this was a punishment case, and usually, in order to gain the benefit of more lenient punishment, like the probation we were hoping for, juries and judges like it when people plead guilty and take responsibility for their actions.”
The judge who stacked Hart’s terms to run consecutively, Eric Clifford, said he agonizes over his decision, driven by concern that Hart poses a danger to society.
“It was a sad situation. I was about to cry. The jury was crying.Everybody looked at everybody like what the hell do we do? The only option we were presented was prison. We don’t have any facilities in the state of Texas for any type of care for somebody like that. That’s the problem. It’s a terrible problem. I don’t know what you do with him other than what we did.”
So for more than six hours Tuesday many witnesses testified about the severity of Aaron Hart’s mental retardation and his inability to understand his legal rights as he sat silent and shackled in a chair fidgeting and making faces however in the end none of it made a difference. The 100-year prison sentence he gave Hart in February after Hart pleaded guilty to molesting a 6 year old boy stands. Lamar County Judge Eric Clifford denied defense motions seeking either a new trial or a new sentencing hearing for Hart. His former special-education teacher testified that Hart functions below the level of a 1st grader.
But Hart’s appellate attorney, David Pearson, argued Tuesday that Hart had received ineffective legal assistance because his trial attorney had failed to present any expert testimony about Hart’s mental functioning or his ability to comprehend the charges against him.
“This case cried out for a mental health evaluation, to explain this disability to the judge and jury, one of the features of people with this kind of mental retardation is they cannot appreciate degrees of wrongfulness.”
District Atty. Gary Young countered that a court-appointed expert had determined that Hart was legally competent and that a jury had determined he was a danger to the community. Clifford, who last week said he had agonized over the case, took only a few seconds to issue his ruling.