Judge rejects probation in sex abuse
A judge threw out a plea bargain Friday for a Grand Junction woman who took explicit photos of a toddler and sent them to her boyfriend last year, saying the deal prosecutors had agreed to left him unable to impose a meaningful sentence.
Samantha Jean Groff, 24, was arrested last year after federal investigators linked her to a case involving 33-year-old Joseph Alan Smith.
Smith was accused of sharing the photos of a 2-year-old girl on a Russia-based peer-to-peer website frequently used to exchange child pornography, earlier reports said.
Investigators learned that Groff photographed the young girl in a “sexting” conversation with Smith, and later came to believe that the couple also physically abused the child.
Groff and Smith have each been charged in both state and federal court. The state court has been dealing with the allegations of the actual sexual abuse, while the federal court has dealt with the distribution of the pictures.
Groff has already been sentenced to nine years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons in her federal case.
On Friday, Mesa County Chief Deputy District Attorney David Waite asked District Judge Brian Flynn to accept a plea deal that stipulated Groff’s state prison sentence would run at the same time as the federal sentence.
In an unusual twist, Waite asked for probation in Groff’s state case while Public Defender Kara Smith asked for prison. Waite asked for a “lengthy” probation period for Groff so that when she leaves prison she has the added structure of a probation officer to help her transition.
Smith — who has maintained that Joseph Smith was the perpetrator of the sexual assault, and that Groff was present but “froze” — asked for a short sentence that would finish before Groff is eligible for federal parole.
Several members of Groff’s family spoke on her behalf Friday, casting her as a caring woman who was taken advantage of by Joseph Smith.
Flynn said ordering probation would downplay the seriousness of Groff’s crimes, and that any state prison sentence he ordered likely would be finished by the time she is eligible for parole in the federal case.
“I do find that any sentence allowed under the plea agreement would be meaningless,” Flynn said. “I also find that such a sentence … would fail to protect the victim as well as other children.”
Flynn rejected the plea and set a new appearance for Oct. 4.
Smith has yet to enter a plea.