Rape charge amended to child endangerment
A man who spent nearly seven months in jail accused of raping a 6-year-old child was released last week after prosecutors amended the charge and told a judge they no longer believed he was guilty of the sex offense.
Joel Dana Ferguson, 58, was arrested on a warrant in August 2016 on one felony count of sexual intercourse without consent involving the child and sat in jail on $250,000 bond until last Thursday.
Ferguson, a former Columbus man, contended he was unaware of the warrant and had denied the charge.
The amended charge filed was felony criminal child endangerment, to which Ferguson pleaded guilty to last Thursday, March 23. Ferguson admitted that he “negligently caused risk of serious bodily injury” to a child by putting her in a man’s custody, knowing that man had previously hit the girl with a wooden paddle.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, the Stillwater County Attorney’s Office will recommend a suspended 10-year sentence to the Montana Department of Corrections. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered with sentencing set for May. Ferguson must abide by court-imposed conditions until that time, which include a 10 p.m. curfew and not being in contact with minors without adult supervision.
“THIS DECISION WE DID NOT COME TO LIGHTLY”
Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde presented her reasons for the amended charge by detailing the case, which began three years ago and involved Ferguson’s adult son — Adam Ferguson — confessing to sexually assaulting the same child. Adam Ferguson is currently serving a prison sentence that will run at least 15 years. His total sentence was 100 years with 75 years suspended.
It was Adam Ferguson who told investigators his father had also sexually assaulted the child.
“This decision we did not come to lightly,” said Rohde, explaining that there was plenty of probable cause to have filed the charge initially.
In court documents, Rohde states “During the course of trial preparation and witness interviews, it became increasingly clear to the parties that the defendant’s son, Adam Ferguson (who was charged with sexually assaulting one minor child and physically assaulting a second minor child), intentionally misled law enforcement in the original investigation about the involvement Joel Ferguson had with the first minor child.”
Rohde also wrote the following: “After a study of the totality of the evidence, including knowledge obtained since the defendant’s arrest, the state has determined that Adam Ferguson used misleading statements to deflect guilt to the defendant and other parties and was attempting to condone his behavior by saying these people knew of, or engaged in the same sexual activity.”
The child’s mother told investigators that Adam Ferguson told her he had sexually assaulted her daughter on two occasions and that she had learned of it when he told her, according to court documents. The child told investigators she had told her mother about both men assaulting her. The mother did not report the assaults to law enforcement because of financial reasons, according to court documents.
At last week’s hearing, Rohde said the plea agreement was the appropriate resolution of the case.
“Justice doesn’t always mean there is a conviction,” said Rohde.