By Patric Hedlund
LEBEC—Just as his case was set to go to trial, James Schaffer of Lebec agreed to a plea bargain Monday morning, Feb. 8. A jury was about to be seated to hear arguments on three counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child 13 years of age or younger, according to Kern County Prosecutor Kim Marshall. She said the charge covers a range of actions, from inappropriate touching to rape of a minor.
In the fall of 2006 Schaffer was charged with molesting three Mountain Community girls. Through a series of defense attorney tactics and a notable array of medical reasons for postponements, he evaded trial for four years.
The alleged crimes took place around 2005, but a prior Kern County Sheriff’s lead deputy in Frazier Park “did minimal work on the case,” a source said, leaving the prosecutors with inadequate evidence.
The investigative work of Senior Deputy Vince Martinez (now promoted to Sergeant and transferred) is credited by families with having solid charges brought by the District Attorney.
“He [Martinez] followed up and did a wonderful job,” Marshall said.
Schaffer rejected earlier plea bargain offers as late as Friday, Feb. 5, “because he said he didn’t want to be registered as a sex offender,” according to one victim’s father.
The prosecutor acknowledged Monday that Schaffer may have been motivated to take a ‘no contest’ plea to one charge the following Monday morning, Feb. 8 when he learned that—if the case went to trial—Judge John Brownlee had agreed to allow testimony by two prior victims. Those victims, according to court records, are Schaffer’s nieces.
According to the prosecutor, if Schaffer had been found guilty on all three counts by a jury, he could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison for each child victim.
“If convicted on all charges and all enhancements, it could have been 45 years to life in prison, if the jury found there were multiple victims,” Marshall said.
By pleading ‘no contest’ to one count, Schaffer faces from three to eight years in prison and must register as a sex offender.
Sentencing will take place on April 5. The victims and their parents will be allowed to speak to the court at that hearing.
Schaffer is known locally for performing in a 10-gallon hat, cowboy vest, bandana and boots with local bands, including a “worship band” that appeared in churches throughout this region.
This is part of the February 12, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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