By John L. Ross
Flanked by his attorneys, the former director of pupil personnel for Laurel County Schools dropped his head after hearing his sentence Friday in Laurel County Circuit Court.
Charles Douglas Phelps, 54, arrived for court dressed in a suit and tie with his mother and a family friend.
Phelps was slated for a sentencing hearing Friday afternoon — he faced charges of bribing a witness, tampering with a witness and possession of material portraying a sexual performance by a minor, and entered into a plea agreement.
A status hearing on a separate but related case was slated for the morning session, but that was cancelled. In that case, Phelps faced a charge of first-degree sexual abuse after allegedly exposing a 17-year-old female victim to sexual contact.
Phelps did face several charges earlier this year involving allegations of sexual contact with the 17 year old and a 14-year-old victim — however, in February, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office learned the 14-year-old’s statements were “inaccurate” and “inconsistent,” which forced the office to request those charges be dismissed.
However, the charge involving the 17 year old stood and was slated for trial Oct. 8. However, on that date the victim failed to appear for court — it was learned Phelps allegedly contacted that victim more than 500 times — which left the judge that day, Tom Jensen, to remind Phelps and his attorneys about the no-contact conditions placed on him by the court.
At that time Phelps was on home incarceration, records show. Phelps was arrested by the London Police Department the next day and jailed in the Laurel County Correctional Center.
He remained jailed until Oct. 31, when he was released from custody — JailTracker records do not indicate what bond he posted to get out of jail.
Which then led to his appearance Friday.
Although his case was listed on the docket as the last to be heard — Phelps’ hearing was called before Circuit Judge Henry Johnson first during the afternoon session.
Phelps, with his attorneys Gary Crabtree and Conrad Cessna, approached the podium for the hearing to begin.
Crabtree opened up the hearing with a request to allow Phelps to be sentenced to probation.
Crabtree first began by sharing with the court some of what he called Phelps’ “strengths,” including a close family relationship, adding that his mother was there in support of her son. Phelps is one of seven children, three of whom Crabtree said work for the Kentucky State Police Department. Phelps himself has two daughters and a grandchild, according to Crabtree.
“He (also) has no prior criminal record (and) no arrests,” Crabtree said. “That (too) is a strength.”
The attorney told the court Phelps also earned his Master’s degree. “He has a long history of steady employment,” Crabtree said. “If (he is) probated (he) will continue to have employment.”
He added that Phelps’ was involved with the community. “Phelps has an unusual commitment to community service in this county,” Crabtree said, adding that he has been involved with the Laurel County Fair and fairgrounds from 1978 through 2011.
Crabtree also said that Phelps had been involved in the United Way charity in one form or another for 30 years, and had been involved in other community groups.
“I understand the victim does not want to testify against him,” Crabtree said.
He added that the victim sent messages through a cell phone to Phelps. “Those photos (of the victim) were unsolicited (by Phelps),” Crabtree said, adding they were saved to the cell phone’s picture gallery.
The attorney further added that after a search was conducted on his home after the first set of allegations came out, nothing criminal was found on confiscated items, which were returned to Phelps.
Crabtree said that everything he said concerning Phelps was “offered as mitigation” when it came to sentencing. “I’m asking the court to consider (probation),” he said. “(It) is in the community’s interest, the public’s interest and Phelps’ and his family’s interest that he be sentenced to probation.”
But Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele felt otherwise.
“I’m not going to argue about his commitment to the community,” Steele said, but added that some of his community involvement came from his position with Laurel County Schools.
Steele explained Phelps’ responsibilities in his job included assisting truant, troubled students — such as the 14-year-old alleged victim. “The child is supposed to get back on track,” Steele said. “Both (alleged victims) were such troubled kids.”
Recidivism — the chance that a convicted criminal would repeat the offense — also was discussed by Steele.
He said that the recidivism rate mentioned by Crabtree was one year — but the case “is about two years old.”
“(He was still involved) with his previous case when he was charged with (these) new offenses,” Steele said, and noted his objection to granting Phelps probation.
And Judge Johnson agreed.
“All of us are a mix of good and bad,” Johnson said. “It certainly is a credit (for) what good things you’ve done — but it doesn’t change the nature of those offenses.”
With that, Johnson sentenced Phelps to three years in prison — two years for tampering with a witness, and one year for the possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor.
Those will be served consecutively.
The charge of first-degree sexual abuse against the 17-year-old female was dismissed, as was the bribing a witness charge, as per the plea agreement.
Phelps was remanded from the courtroom to the Laurel County Correctional Center, and from there will be transported to the state’s Correctional Cabinet. The Cabinet will determine where Phelps will serve his sentence.