Man bound over for trial in alleged sexual abuse of Lawrence girl

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, which houses Douglas County District Court and a number of other criminal justice services at 111 E. 11th St., is pictured April 8, 2020.

A man was bound over for trial Monday in connection with a woman’s allegations of repeated sexual abuse that she said began about six years ago, when she was a teenager.

Joseph Christopher Hess, 36, was charged in June 2019 with two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child, three counts of criminal sodomy and one count of attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child.

The woman said she was about 14 years old when Hess started molesting her in 2014. As the Journal-World has reported, she told police she saw Hess as a mentor at the time.

She estimated to police that he had abused her more than 50 times over about 14 months. She testified Monday that Hess had touched her sometimes while she was awake and other times when she was pretending to be asleep.

In 2019, the woman reportedly told police that she “finally stopped feeling she was to blame and she was ready to talk about what happened now,” according to the police affidavit supporting Hess’ arrest.

Lawrence Police Officer Brett Horner testified that after the woman made her report, he asked her if she would be willing to record a phone call with Hess. She agreed, so Horner said he loaned her a digital recorder and told her how to do it.

Horner said that Hess admitted to the woman during the call that he had molested her and that he was “deferring a lot,” stating that it had been a bad time in his life.

After the woman testified at a preliminary hearing on Monday, Douglas County District Court Judge Stacey Donovan found probable cause and bound Hess over on all six of the charges against him.

Assistant District Attorney Cathy Eaton also asked to amend Hess’ charges with two additional counts of criminal sodomy based on the woman’s testimony Monday, and the judge bound him over on those as well. All eight counts are level 3, 4 and 5 felonies, or high- to mid-severity charges.

Hess recently had his bond modified so that he could move from Lawrence to Sedalia, Mo., to live with a family member. His attorney, Branden Smith, asked Donovan to take Hess off house arrest since he was living in another state.

Eaton said she objected to the request because they’re high-level crimes with presumed prison sentences. She said the alleged victim was already dealing with “a lot of emotional baggage,” and she lives in fear.

Smith argued that Hess wasn’t interested in finding the woman, and if that was going to happen it would’ve happened while he was living in Lawrence. Either way, a GPS is tracking him, Smith said.

Donovan agreed to lift the bond condition of house arrest, but she said he needed to remain in Sedalia except for court hearings and other appointments in Lawrence. He will also continue to be monitored by a GPS ankle bracelet.

Hess’ next court hearing is set for Oct. 8. He remains on $100,000 cash or surety bond.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office previously declined to release Hess’ booking photo to the Journal-World. It was not immediately clear Monday whether the photo would be released now that he has been bound over for trial.

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Related coverage

July 23, 2019: Girl’s trust for ‘mentor’ led to repeated child sex crimes, affidavit alleges

June 24, 2019: Lawrence man charged with multiple sex crimes against a child