Story County Attorney Explains Plea Deal in ISU Graduate Sexual Assault Case

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds helped prosecute the case against 33-year-old Jona Paulus, who was charged with forcible rape in April and was additionally charged with one count of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography Thursday.

Reynolds said investigators confiscated Paulus' cell phone for evidence in the sexual assault investigation, and then they found text messages between Paulus and a minor.  Portions of the criminal indictment show Paulus requesting sexual acts and nude photos from the minor. At one point she responded saying, "reminder I'm only 16."

This case is being handled by the U.S. District Court for Southern District of Iowa because distribution of child pornography across the internet is a federal crime.

The attorney said sexual assault cases are typically difficult to prosecute, but this was challenging. She said normally when cases get taken over by the federal courts, she dismisses state charges and relinquishes jurisdiction to the federal courts. But this case was different.

"First of all the reason I like to work with the feds on that is they have a lot of stricter sentences," she said. "

Reynolds said she also wanted to ensure the victims got their day in court.

"Due to the facts and the nature of this case, I decided to retain jurisdiction for the sexual assault and get the state conviction before I transfer him to federal custody," Reynolds said.

Instead of taking the case to trial, prosecutors offered Paulus a plea deal. He pleaded guilty to intent to commit sex abuse in June, and the state agreed to not file charges in another alleged rape case, as part of the plea deal. Reynolds said this isn't common.

"We definitely wanted jail time, which is what we got," Reynolds said. "The main thing for me was the victims being heard, the conviction, the lifetime sex offender registry which we have and is very important, and the ten-year special sentence whenever he`ll be released from all jurisdiction."

Reynolds said both victims signed off on the plea deal and were consulted throughout the process. She said the prosecutor makes the ultimate legal decision, but it was important to her that the victims were involved in the plea offers and agreements."

"Crime victims are put through a lot of trauma. So obviously they are put through the initial trauma when they are victimized in the crime. And then the criminal justice system is not victim friendly," she said. "But victims are often lost in that process and I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be violently victimized and not be part of the decision-making process as to what happens to the person who victimize you."

Paulus received a 90-day jail sentence for the assault charges and with credit for time served, he was released from the Story County Jail after sentencing. Now, he is in federal custody awaiting trial for the child pornography charges he faces.

Reynolds said Paulus, who was an Iowa State graduate student, has been kicked off campus. He is now a registered sex offender for life and will not be able to return to campus.

She said between both the state and federal courts, she feels as though justice was served.

"Ultimately we were able to work with the victims to make sure they got out of it what they needed to feel some level of peace and be able to move forward," Reynolds said.

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