A young girl stood feet away from her convicted rapist Friday and said she wants “to see him suffer” behind bars for at least two decades.
“I’m one of the victims of the rape,” the girl began, as Jeffrey M. Lassiter sat at the nearby defense table.
“I’ve known Jeff for a long time and it’s hard for me to see people say that they want him to be in jail for life,” she said. “But hearing and seeing all the trouble and sadness he’s caused, I will say I think he should be in there long enough to learn his lesson.”
The girl — one of four kids raped by Lassiter — told Judge Cameron Mitchell that for a long time she thought it was her problem and she put the victims in danger.
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“But I realize it’s not my fault. I’m not the adult,” she added.
Lassiter, 44, was sentenced in Benton County Superior Court to 23 years and three months in prison.
However, the sex crimes carry a life sentence, which means only after Lassiter serves every day of the ordered sentence can he be considered for release.
I wanted Jeff to know that I miss him, but I don’t miss what he did. And I hope he regrets every day he is in prison.
One of Lassiter’s victims
A state board then will review his case and decide when, if ever, he’s ready to be a free man again based on his acceptance of the crimes, his participation in prison programs and the risk to community safety.
Lassiter, of Richland, acknowledged that he needs treatment and deserves the prison time, and said he prays that the victims can recover from his actions.
“What I did was heinous and I regret everything that I did,” he said. “It was a horrible, cruel thing I did, betraying everybody’s trust.”
Lassiter previously pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree rape of a child — two counts for each child.
“I’d like to apologize to my family and my friends for deceiving them all this time,” he told the court as a few relatives sat behind him. “And I wish I could take it back. I know I can’t.”
Lassiter was arrested last August after the mother of two victims contacted the Richland Police Department.
What I did was heinous and I regret everything that I did. It was a horrible, cruel thing I did, betraying everybody’s trust.
Jeffrey M. Lassiter
The kids – three girls and a boy – all told investigators they had been raped by Lassiter about two years prior.
Lassiter had no felony history before this case.
The mother of two of the girls said Friday that “nobody can ever understand all the pain and fear that Jeffrey brought to our children.”
The kids were terrified to even tell their own mothers what was going on, the mother said, adding that she prays they won’t be afraid forever.
“He did something so wrong, unimaginable and forgettable,” she said. “What happens next is up to the judge and God, and I hope that they both give Jeff what he deserves. May God save our children … and their hurting souls from what this sick man has done to them.”
The woman’s other daughter then gave a brief statement to the court: “I wanted Jeff to know that I miss him, but I don’t miss what he did. And I hope he regrets every day he is in prison.”
Deputy Prosecutor Megan Whitmire said when Lassiter entered his guilty pleas in February, the U.S. Attorney’s Office made him a promise not to pursue charges for taking photographs of the naked children.
Lassiter would have faced a minimum 15 to 30 years in prison if those federal charges had been filed, said Whitmire, so a sentence in the middle of the standard range is appropriate for the sex crimes.
Defense attorney John Chambers said his client “didn’t mean for this to happen” and asked for the bottom of the range at 20 years.
Judge Mitchell thanked the “two young ladies” and their mother for having the courage and strength to stand up in front of the court with Lassiter nearby.
Mitchell said he’s concerned Lassiter has not fully accepted responsibility because of statements he made in a pre-sentencing report suggesting it was the kids who wanted to do inappropriate things and take off their clothes.
The judge considered a mandatory minimum term of 26 1/2 years, but in the end went with Whitmire’s recommendation.
“I know that the sentence that I give to Mr. Lassiter is not going to take away the memories, the pain that’s been caused by these actions,” Mitchell said to the victims and their families. “I just hope as you move forward, you’re able to … put this behind you and receive the full and happy life that you deserve.”