By JB Clark
TUPELO – Four days after admitting he sent poisoned letters to the president and two other elected officials, James Everett Dutschke pleaded guilty Tuesday in Lee County Circuit Court to fondling a minor.
Dutschke, a 42-year-old former Tupelo martial arts instructor, was indicted April 1, 2013, on three charges of touching girls under the ages of 16.
The District Attorney’s office recommended Dutschke be sentenced to 45 years in Mississippi Department of Corrections custody on the three charges, 15 years for each.
Assistant District Attorney Sadie Gardner recommended 20 of those years be served in prison and 25 of those suspended.
It also was recommended he pay a $1,000 fine, $500 to the District Attorney’s investigation fund and $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund for each charge.
He will have to register as a sex offender in the state, a registration he will be required to maintain for his lifetime.
Dutschke is currently in federal custody awaiting sentencing after entering a guilty plea to sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland and attempting to frame another man for the crimes.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office made a recommendation in U.S. District Court in Oxford on Friday that Dutschke serve 25 years in federal custody for the ricin plot.
State prosecutors agreed to allow Dutschke to serve any sentence stemming from the fondling charges concurrently with the 25-year federal sentence.
The fondling incidents occurred between January 2008 and Jan. 16, 2013, while the victims were under the age of 16. The victims were all in contact with Dutschke through his martial arts school. They are now 8, 9 and 20 years old.
Dutschke drew out the plea process when Lee County Circuit Court Judge Paul Funderburk asked if he did commit the crimes he was charged with.
“I am pleading guilty to this charge, your honor,” Dutschke replied.
“I understood you were pleading guilty before we got started. I’m asking if you did, in fact, commit this crime,” Funderburk asked intently.
After a 30-second silence, a choked-up Dutschke said, “I have to say yes, your honor.”
Funderburk then made Dutschke clarify. “You indicated that you have to say yes,” Funderburk said. “You don’t have to say anything. Do you understand that?”
Dutschke finally answered in the affirmative.
At one point, while awaiting the prosecution’s sentencing recommendations, Dutschke said he was feeling lightheaded and requested a chair, though he sat only briefly.
When asked if he was coerced into entering the guilty plea, Dutschke said facing life in prison is coercion enough.
Gardner said the families of the victims are happy to have this behind them.
“This saves (the families) and their little girls the experience of having to go up on the stand and tell the jurors and whoever is in the court what happened to them,” she said. “It’s a time they would have to relive what was done.”
The initial purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was to determine if forensic interviewers could testify as to what minors told them regarding the alleged fondlings.
Dutschke originally pleaded not guilty to the state and federal charges.
Attorneys on both sides agreed to postpone sentencing on the state charges until Dutschke is sentenced on the federal charges. No sentencing dates have been set.