Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

July 12, 2013

Cowman pleads, Smith sentenced in underage sex video incident

Steve Woodhouse
The Journal Express

Knoxville — In two separate court hearings Friday morning, both stemming from the same incident, two guilty men under the age of 21 emerged. At least one of them is headed for prison. 

Jordan Donovan Cowman, 20, and Jake Christian Smith, 20, participated in a sex crime against a 15-year-old girl in Knoxville in February. Smith received oral sex from the victim while Cowman recorded it on video and distributed it to at least one other person. The Knoxville Police Department became aware of the crime months later, when another juvenile female assaulted the victim after watching the video. 

Smith had previously pled guilty to third-degree sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of a minor. Friday was Cowman's turn to plead guilty. 

Cowman pled guilty to sexual exploitation of a minor. During his guilty plea proceedings, he provided Judge Randy Hefner and the court an account of what happened on the day in question. 

"I went to my friend's house," Cowman said. While there, he and his friends, including Smith, were playing practical jokes on each other. At one point, Cowman said Smith asked the girl to perform oral sex on him. Without the girl's knowledge, Cowman turned his laptop computer camera on to record the incident. The men planned to view the video later. 

Cowman told Hefner that he did not intend to distribute the video to anyone, until he received a call from a friend, to request a copy. After several minutes of peer pressure, Cowman gave in and sent him the digital video. From there, the video apparently went viral to an unknown number of recipients. 

Lt. Aaron Fuller of the Knoxville Police Department paid a visit to Cowman, following the incident at Knoxville High School that made the police aware of the tape. Cowman told the judge he is convinced that, after meeting with the police and Marion County Attorney Ed Bull, there is sufficient evidence to convict him of the crime. 

Bull asked Cowman follow-up questions to further establish the defendant's guilt at the hearing. Cowman confirmed that the act was oral sex, performed by a 15-year-old girl, which he permitted to happen and filmed it. Bull also clarified that his office did not provide the video to the defense to avoid complications of distributing child pornography itself. 

Defense Attorney John Heinecke reported seeing the video. He also explained the potential consequences Cowman could face at sentencing, including up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. These consequences were again reviewed in open court. Cowman said he understood the consequences, as well as the rights he was surrendering, and proceeded with his guilty plea. 

Cowman's sentencing is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 13, at 9 a.m. A presentence investigation has been ordered. 

Immediately following Cowman's plea hearing, Smith was sentenced. 

On behalf of the State, Bull requested Smith be sentenced to 10 years per count, and that those sentences run consecutively. The recommendations in the presentence investigation on file show that Smith's likelihood to reoffend ranges between moderate to high risk. The risk assessment was based on Smith's own answers to questions posed by the PSI writer. 

Bull indicated that, at the time of the crime, Smith had been kicked out of his home. Smith did not finish high school, "because he didn't like it." The defendant was also homeless and used drugs on a daily basis, Bull added. 

"There is no question this defendant knew exactly what he was doing," Bull said. Only one person did not know what was going on and that was the victim, he added. 

"She didn't know she was being videotaped," Bull said. This leads to purposeful concealment by the defendant and others involved. "They absolutely knew what they did was wrong." 

Bull believes these actions provide sufficient reason for Smith to go to prison. He said the two crimes Smith pled guilty to are not those for which an offender should "get a slap on the wrist." The victim has been permanently damaged and the Department of Corrections has indicated that Smith should go to prison. 

In his ongoing argument for imprisonment, Bull said he believes people in society today think that "I'm sorry" is sufficient to make up for any wrongdoing. 

"It isn't when you step into a court of law," Bull said. "Society needs to understand that sexual abuse of children is not okay in Iowa." 

While Bull recognized Smith's age, Smith's background indicates that he is not likely to successfully rehabilitate. He reiterated the premeditation behind Smith's crimes and how two were committed - the act itself and the distributed video.

"Those are crimes that deserve separate punishments," Bull said. 

Smith's attorney, Dawn Bowman, was then given the chance to argue her case for deferred judgement. 

"Jake Smith was 19 years old," Bowman said. In the time he's been held in the Marion County Jail, Smith has begun the GED process and would like to gain employment. He has a juvenile record that includes burglary, but not assaults. Burglaries were performed to help him subsidize his substance abuse habit. 

"Jake readily admitted to the PSI writer that he needs substance abuse treatment," Bowman said. 

Bowman said the court, and the community, have a duty to rehabilitate Smith. She added that there is no way to know if 20 years in prison would have an effect on Smith, or whether or not it would deter others. 

The crimes are serious, Bowman added, but she believes Smith is not a threat and that he is willing to get treatment.

"Please consider this defendant's youth," she closed. Smith also had the opportunity to address the court. 

He told Hefner that he thinks about his crime every day, and recognizes how it will affect his victim for the rest of her life. He intends to complete sex offender treatment, is apologetic for the harm he's caused. Smith closed by saying he believes he can do better with his life, if given the opportunity. 

Hefner, who had reviewed the PSI, made note of the fact that Smith has younger sisters. Hefner asked Smith how he would feel if someone had done to one of Smith's sisters, what Smith did to his victim.

"I would not be very happy at all," Smith replied. 

Hefner said he considered all of the factors Bull and Bowman had mentioned, as well as the PSI. He also considers the goals of criminal sentencing overall, which are to protect the public, deter others from repeating such acts and offering a chance for a defendant to rehabilitate. 

"When this occurred, you were adrift," Hefner said to Smith. "I am concerned by the assessment that you are moderate to high risk to reoffend." Hefner said he felt that a suspended sentence or deferred judgement were not appropriate in this case. 

"The county attorney is absolutely correct," Hefner said. "These do constitute two separate offenses." 

Hefner sentenced Smith to 10 years in prison, per count. The sentences will run concurrently, which means Smith could be in prison for up to 10 years, not 20. Smith was fined $1,000 per count plus a 35 percent surcharge, which were suspended due to his impending incarceration. Court costs and attorney fees were also assessed to Smith. He will receive credit for time already served. 

Smith is eligible for parole if he follows his treatment. With the sexual exploitation conviction comes the stipulation that he will be on parole with the Iowa Department of Corrections for the rest of his life, he must register as a sex offender and submit a DNA sample to the State. A no contact order, already in place, will continue.

After court adjourned, Bull said he hopes that the sentence will send a strong signal to offenders that these crimes will not be tolerated. In regard to Hefner's decision to run the sentences concurrently, rather that consecutively, Bull said he respects the court's opinion, but respectfully disagrees. Two crimes should have carried with them additional consequences. 

"My victim is going to have to have to live with this for the rest of her life," Bull said. He wanted to thank her for her courage to come forward. Bull also thanked Fuller of the KPD for his work on the investigation. 

The Marion County Sheriff was ordered to transport Smith to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Oakdale to begin his sentence.