RICHLAND -- A troubled 14-year-old girl who regarded an older Alabama man she'd met online as a second father was in return treated as a sex object, a federal judge said Tuesday.
Morgan Douglas Jones initiated sexual contact with the Boise girl through their World of Warcraft game personas, then turned his fantasies into reality when he drove across the country to help her run away.
Over the course of six days, the pair had sex multiple times while Jones gave the girl alcohol and prescription pills. They ended up at a north Franklin County campground.
Those actions justify nine years behind bars, ruled U.S. District Court Judge Ed Shea.
Jones, now 28, "offered her no real assistance, and the only thing he wanted within minutes of meeting her was sex. ... This is a person who did evil things to this girl, evil because he knew better," Shea said during a 1 1/2-hour hearing in a Richland courtroom.
Jones was a married man who was "much more worldly and experienced in sexual matters," and thus should have had mature judgment, Shea added.
The teen girl claimed to be dealing with family turmoil and dissatisfaction in her young life. Though her 14-year-old body was capable of bearing a child and reacting to stimuli, she had "no sense of the power of intimacy" and simply lacked the mental judgment to consent to sexual activity, he said.
"She thought of (Jones) as a second father. He thought of her as a sex object," Shea said.
Jones pleaded guilty in April to a reduced charge of travel for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct. As a part of the plea agreement, his original charge was dismissed Tuesday.
Shea had the option of sentencing the former pharmacist technician from Birmingham to up to 10 years.
But Jones pleaded for leniency, saying he does not view this as a setback in life and a five-year term would allow him to get out and pursue a career as a minister.
"First off, I do feel very apologetic for what I've done. If anything I was confused at the time and I apologize to the victim, I apologize to her family and I apologize to everybody that I have affected," he said, standing before the court in gray Benton County jail garb.
Jones vowed not to have any contact with the girl or her family and asked to be placed in a federal institution close to his relatives in Fort Worth, Texas.
He said he also wants to reconcile with his wife. He was 17 and she was 15 1/2 when they initially moved to Alabama, where they lived as common-law husband and wife before getting married. She reportedly left him for an Oregon man shortly before Jones' cross-country travel.
"I am moving on with my life. I'm making that effort to move on with my life and I have no vengeance. I don't have any bitterness," Jones said. "And actually I thank the court for being so graceful, for being so gentle with this case."
Jones and the Boise girl met in 2007 through the internet game World of Warcraft.
After having a platonic online relationship for almost a year, Jones told the girl on April 21, 2008, that his wife had left him. Days later Jones' game character gave the girl's character a peck on the lips and fondled her, which led to an online sexual relationship. And within two days Jones was professing how much he loved the girl and arranged for the two to have an online wedding, according to graphic game logs as read by Shea and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Van Marter.
The complication with today's adolescent youth is they are staring into computer screens and discussing with strangers things they can't address with family and friends, Van Marter said.
"I think that this particular case is really a parent's worst nightmare," she said.
Shea described Jones as a sexual predator who groomed, desensitized and manipulated the girl. They talked online and met in private chat rooms using webcams until Jones agreed to move to Idaho to help her out.
Jones arrived in Boise on May 27, but ended up getting a hotel room when the victim was too scared to leave with him, court documents said. The following day they met near her house after her dad left for work, and the girl decided she was ready to go, documents said.
They first went to Jones' hotel room to have sex, then got on the road and traveled through Oregon before stopping at a Tri-City hotel. Jones reportedly liked to wear dresses, and the Tri-City hotel manager told authorities he had been wearing women's clothing during his brief stay.
Their travel route was tracked through Jones' cell phone.
Boise detectives issued a kidnapping bulletin, listing information about the teen, Jones and his yellow Chevrolet Aveo with personalized Alabama plates. They were caught June 2 in a tent at Palouse Falls State Park after campers returned to the Tri-Cities and saw news stories about Jones and the runaway girl.
Defense attorney Jim Egan blames the girl for initiating both the amorous and the sexual nature of the relationship. His client repeatedly asked the girl during their trip if she wanted to go home, and she always said, "No," Egan said.
Jones was motivated by love and a desire to get the teen away from a home in which he believed she was being emotionally abused. Jones was naive and never intended to hurt her, Egan said.
"He has recognized that a life of selfish desire to fulfill only personal goals and personal appetites led to a useless life and (Jones) desires more than this for his life," Egan wrote in court documents.
The girl did not attend Tuesday's sentencing. Her mother couldn't make it due to a last-minute family emergency.
Van Marter read a letter from the mother, who is not named so as not to identify the victim.
The mom said Jones hurt the girl not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. He preyed on her and made her feel like she would be cared for by him.
"It was wrong what you did, Mr. Jones. Morally wrong," the mom wrote. "You took her out of the home without her parents' permission ... and took her innocence away."
"You were only satisfying your sexual desire and wanted someone young to do that with. ... You have a problem that may never go away," she wrote.
The mother said she forgives Jones and what he has done, but said it in no way gives him a right to contact her daughter in the future. She said a sentence between seven and 10 years will give the girl enough time to heal before his release.
"I don't care what the circumstance is, never ever do it again," the mother wrote. "You have a chance here to do something with your life and turn it around."
Jones did not receive a fine because of his "lack of resources," Shea said. However, he must pay $2,229.73 to cover the girl's counseling services over the past year and another $2,000 for more sessions in the next year or two.
Once released from federal prison, Jones will be supervised for 50 years.