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Court of Appeals rules Rigby man must be re-sentenced for sexually exploiting child

Crime Watch

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POCATELLO — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined a Rigby man who made child pornography while abusing a four-year-old needs to be re-sentenced after an error by the local federal court.

In the opinion summary issued by the 9th U.S. Circuit, the appellate judges say Idaho District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill made two errors when sentencing 34-year-old Joseph Lavern Harris in 2019. Specifically, Winmill applied sentencing enhancements for being the victim’s guardian and acting as a leader in the crimes committed with his girlfriend, 30-year-old Elizabeth Dawn Evans.

The decision to overturn the sentence comes after Harris filed an appeal days after being sentenced in August 2019.

Harris initially received a 300 month or 25-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to sexual exploitation of a child. Without the two enhancements applied by Winmill, the court of appeals says an appropriate sentence for Harris would have been between 210 to 262 months in federal prison.

RELATED | Man sentenced to 25 years in prison for producing child pornography

Court records show between January and February of 2018, Harris and Evans lived together when the four-year-old girl was sexually abused by Harris. Jefferson County Child Protective Services went to the home where they lived after receiving an anonymous child abuse tip.

The victim told investigators Harris sexually abused her. A subsequent investigation by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security found photos taken by Evans of the child rape.

Detectives also found a list made by Harris of people he wanted to have sex with, including the child victim. A search uncovered Evans sent a nude photo of herself and Harris along with a text message to another woman inviting her to join the couple in raping the child.

Evans told police the couple “discussed” abusing the child and Harris “did not pressure her” to participate in the sex abuse of the child.

RELATED | Couple accused of sexually abusing and exploiting a 4-year-old

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court said Harris’ actions did not constitute control or leadership, meaning Winmill could not apply that enhancement. Additionally, because Harris was not a legal guardian of the child and only lived with the victim for a couple of months, the appellate court ruled the guardianship enhancement is not applicable.

Evans is currently serving a 15-year sentence at Federal Correctional Institution Dublin in California for possessing sexually explicit images of minors. Winmill ordered that Evans be placed on supervised release for ten years following her prison sentence.

With the new sentencing for Harris scheduled at the Federal Courthouse in Pocatello on Sept. 21, he was brought from federal prison to the Jefferson County Jail on Friday.

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