A former mentor and law enforcement officer could be held in prison for the rest of his life, for committing sexual offenses against three juveniles in Mesa County.
Joshua Hemphill, who is awaiting sentencing for child sex abuse in a Montrose case, formally heard his fate Friday in the Grand Junction matter: As agreed upon under a plea deal, he is to serve at least 15 years in the Department of Corrections and, under Colorado’s indeterminate sentencing provisions for certain sex offenses, up to the rest of his life.
Hemphill earlier pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child as a pattern of abuse and to the sexual exploitation of two other minors in Grand Junction.
“There’s not enough words to convey how sorry I am for the path I led those kids to,” Hemphill said, after Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubenstein argued unsuccessfully for the statutory designation of sexually violent predator to be affixed.
“I just want the kids, their families and the community to know I’m sorry,” Hemphill said.
None of his victims attended court.
Rubenstein said each of the three victims wanted different things in the case and two were opposed to a public trial.
According to the arrest affidavit in the case, Hemphill admitted to watching child pornography on his phone, viewing “hundreds” of images and videos over five years.
Investigators also found explicit conversations from 2015 between Hemphill, then 23, and a 14-year-old boy, with whom he exchanged explicit photos, the document also said.
According to investigators, Hemphill knew the youth was underage and said in a message that he was “definitely not a pedo.”
The youth told investigators about sexual encounters at a Grand Junction residence and said Hemphill continued trying to contact him after he stopped speaking to him.
A second Grand Junction teen disclosed he and Hemphill had exchanged nude pictures; investigators also said Hemphill exchanged explicit messages and photos with another youth on Instant Messenger. That teen also told authorities he met with Hemphill.
Hemphill previously worked as a detention officer at the Mesa County jail and as a deputy in Dolores County, resigning from that job shortly after the Colorado Bureau of Investigation interviewed him in 2017 about the Montrose matter, and roughly a month before his arrest in that case.
Hemphill had also once been a youth mentor in the local Partners program, which terminated his mentorship for violating the rules pertaining to the amount of time mentors are to spend with children.
Friday, Hemphill’s attorney took issue with an evaluator’s finding that Hemphill dated women and joined the mentorship program to target and groom children. Instead, Hemphill joined Partners because he wanted to help “and these relationships kind of developed,” Jessica Alexander said.
She said his religion places a premium on premarital chastity and that, coupled with homosexual desires, led to feelings of guilt.
“He has been very open” about his conduct and wanting to address it, Alexander also said. The plea agreement was reached in part because of his acceptance of responsibility, she added.
But Hemphill is not a sexually violent predator, Alexander argued.
“Sexually violent predator” is a specific statutory designation; it is not necessarily descriptive of a person’s offense.
An evaluator had recommended the designation for Hemphill, however, the probation department’s assessment found the statutory criteria weren’t met.
This factor delayed Hemphill’s original sentencing, which was to have taken place last November.
Rubenstein argued for the SVP designation which requires: the defendant to have been 18 or older at the time of offense; conviction after 1999; that the perpetrator be a stranger to the victim or that he or she had established a relationship for the purpose of victimizing another, and that the offender is like to commit a similar offense or establish another relationship to exploit for sexual purposes.
Rubenstein said Hemphill “clearly” met the criteria and that his risk of reoffending ranked twice as high as normal.
The pre-sentence evaluation does more than merely suggest Hemphill groomed his victims, Rubenstein also said, countering Alexander’s argument that her client did not engage in such behavior.
Judge Lance Timbreza said the facts of the case and evaluation indeed indicated Hemphill established relationships with juvenile males for sexual gratification. Timbreza was concerned with Hemphill’s stated preference for adult females — a contradiction, the judge said.
Timbreza added he could not see why else Hemphill established relationships with boys if not for sexual gratification and that he was “stuck” on that apparent fact.
Alexander said although it was the evaluator’s opinion that Hemphill sought out boys for sex, it was not Hemphill’s own admission. The statutory requirements for sexually violent predator designation were not met, she said.
Timbreza formally accepted the plea agreement and did not deem Hemphill a sexually violent predator, although, he said, he has “concerns” about Hemphill’s level of denial.
Hemphill was ordered to register as a sex offender.
He received 317 days of pre-sentence confinement against his prison term.
Hemphill faces sentencing in his Montrose case Feb. 25.
He earlier pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. This plea agreement also calls for a 15-year indeterminate sentence.
The CBI launched an investigation in 2017, after hearing allegations from a young man in South Dakota, who claimed Hemphill, who had been his mentor in 2014, had sexually abused him.
No charges arose from this complaint, but the investigation led the CBI to the Montrose victim, and, in turn, to evidence from Hemphill’s phone and social media activity concerning the Grand Junction victims.