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High risk sex offender gets 100 year sentence

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District Judge Kim Christopher sentenced a Polson man convicted of rape to Montana State Prison for 100 years on Thursday, July 5.

Vaughn James, 45, was sentenced as a persistent felony offender and won’t be eligible for parole until having served 50 years and completing phase I and II of the state’s sex offender treatment program. 

James was deemed a tier 3 level sex offender, which is the most likely to re-offend. He will have to register as a sexual offender and is already required to register as a violent offender stemming from an unrelated prior conviction.

A Lake County Jury found Vaughn James guilty of sexual intercourse without consent on July 13, 2017. It took them less than two hours to reach their verdict. It was the second time the case went to trial. Another 12 Lake County jurors heard the case in June 2017 and were unable to reach a unanimous decision. The first trial included a burglary charge that was not charged in the second trial. 

James was initially charged with sexual intercourse without consent and aggravated burglary for allegedly breaking into a Polson home on September 17, 2016 and raping a woman.

According to court records the victim told law enforcement officers that she had fallen asleep on a couch in the living room. She said when she awoke James was on top of her and that he covered her mouth and nose with his hand and proceeded to rape her. According to testimony given at trial, the incident occurred at the home of Vaughn James’s mother to which James was not welcome and the victim was a family member.

Court records show James was accused of breaking into a Pablo woman’s home in June of 2011 and raping her as she slept. That was a month after he had been released from prison on a burglary conviction. A jury could not reach a unanimous decision in that case. The case was set for re-trial in March of 2012 but the alleged victim committed suicide before the case was heard. James was later charged with raping his friend’s girlfriend in Missoula County and allegedly attempting to disguise himself with his friend’s cologne. He was acquitted after taking that case to trial.

James was initially set to be sentenced in August 2017 on last summer’s rape conviction, but Judge Christopher allowed an unusual request for a post-conviction mental health evaluation based on a claimed head injury. Judge Christopher noted at Thursday’s sentencing that his “criminal history predates his injury.” 

Attorney Lane Bennett made an oral motion to disqualify Christopher, claiming the judge was “biased and prejudiced” against his client citing her honor’s history with his client. The motion was denied as Judge Christopher agreed with prosecutor Brendan McQuillan’s objection stating such a motion is required by law to have been made in writing with 30 days prior notice. 

McQuillan also stated that it was time to get the case resolved and that James creates an issue in the Lake County Jail “on a daily basis,” and the victim deserves closure. McQuillan further stated that the victim was once known as a “vibrant and sassy person who is now a hollow shell.”

James made a last ditch effort by firing Bennett. He then argued due process violations and that he was not offered a chance to hire his own attorney despite Bennett being his third public defender assigned to him on this particular case. He made a record of his plans to appeal then stated to members of the media “see you in a few months” as he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs for immediate transport to the Montana State Prison.


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