In what was a year in the making, Vaughn James was sentenced last week.
James, 45, formerly of Polson, was sentenced to 100 years at the Montana Department of Corrections on Thursday, July 5, after he was charged, tried and found guilty on one count of sexual intercourse without consent last year.
He will be eligible for parole after 50 years, according to District 20 Judge Deborah “Kim” Christopher, who read the judgment.
Previously registered as a tier 1 violent offender, James is now a tier 3 sexual offender, and while incarcerated, will receive a persistant felony offender status. He will also go through sexual offender treatment.
James was given credit for 656 days served.
“The court’s concern that there hasn’t been an ability to control your conduct in the community, or even in the jail, or even at the Montana State Hospital… Given those set of circumstances, given the fact you are already a registered violent offender, given the high risk to reoffend,” Christopher said the Court followed the State’s recommendation.
Reviewing his criminal history, dating back to 1991, she stated “things have not improved.”
According to court documents, in September 2016, Vaughn entered a Polson residence without the tenant’s permission. While she was asleep on the couch, Vaughn sexually assaulted her.
Moments after he was read his sentence, James was escorted back to the jail by several Lake County Sheriff’s deputies, where he would be promptly transported to the Montana Department of Corrections.
On his way out, James looked over at the jury box where media and judicial employees sit, and told a reporter he would see them again in a few months.
Request to dismiss
The sentencing was the result of a guilty verdict reached by a jury last July.
That was the second trial for the sexual assault count, as the first resulted in a hung jury, court records show.
During the sentencing, which took roughly an hour, Vaughn, who was defended by appointed-attorney Lane Bennett out of Kalispell, dismissed his counsel.
“Regardless or not of whether I’ve had three or six attorneys, I do have a right to have an attorney, and be represented in a good way,” Vaughn said during sentencing, as he verbally requested to dismiss Bennett.
Previously, Vaughn was represented by attorney Amanda Marvin, also out of Kalispell. In November 2017, counsel was reassigned to Bennett, court documents show. His reason was for counsel not filing paperwork to disqualify Christopher in the mandated 30 days prior to the sentencing.
Vaughn alleged that he told Bennett prior to the 30-day window that he wished to have a different judge, as he felt that Christopher was biased. Counsel and Christopher stated that she was familiar with the case, and the motion was denied.
On Monday, Bennett said that had Vaughn waited a few minutes, Bennett would have been able to tell the court that James had a “horrible upbringing,” and that he fought with various forms of abuse at a young age.
Although he had rough formative years, Bennett said that that doesn’t excuse his actions.
“A lot of people have had a bad upbringing, but his case was one of the worst I’ve seen in 35 years,” Bennett said.
He said that the problem is that the mental health system and child protective services failed James at an early age. “We didn’t get to him early enough.”
Judgement brings closure
Following James’ sentencing, Lake County Deputy Attorney Brendan McQuillan said that the judgment brought closure for people in the past.
“There are a lot of victims in the past who didn’t receive justice from prior cases,” McQuillan said, adding that James’ sentence is protecting the community.
Regarding the victim in the September 2016 incident of which James was sentenced last week, “It’s been over two years for the victim in this case. I spoke to her this morning (Friday) and she’s just so thankful for the closure this is going to bring,” McQuillan said. “Finally, justice has been served.”
Bennett said that next, James’ sentencing will be reviewed by a panel consisting of three judges, who will decide if the punishment was suitable.
James stated in court he will be appealing his sentence to the Montana Surpreme Court.
Once all appelate motions have been exhausted, James could file a petition for post-conviction relief.