ST. GEORGE — A LaVerkin man was sentenced Tuesday on charges filed after he attempted to blackmail a 17-year-old by threatening to post nude images and videos of the girl on the internet – behavior the prosecutor described as “reprehensible.”
During a hearing held Tuesday in 5th District Court, 27-year-old Marquez Jessup was sentenced on two third-degree felony charges, including one count each of sexual extortion sexual solicitation of a child, as well as one count of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- 17-year-old and indecent liberties, a misdemeanor. Jessup pleaded guilty to the charges during a hearing held Jan. 26, and under the terms of the plea agreement three second-degree felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor were dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea.
The case stems from an arrest in September following an investigation that was set in motion when the LaVerkin Police Department’s investigations division was notified by the FBI task force about a tip they had received regarding an offense that took place when the teen was 17-years-old.
During the investigation, it was found that the teen was solicited by Jessup to send nude photographs of herself in exchange for money, and the suspect later solicited the teen for sex, an act for which Jessop gave the girl additional money, according to the probable cause statement filed in support of Jessup’s arrest. The suspect continued to solicit images and sex from the girl, even after she told him she no longer wanted any contact with him.
After the teen made multiple requests to cease contact, Jessup began blackmailing the girl, telling her that he would post the images and videos she had previously sent to him on the internet if she didn’t comply with his requests to continue the arrangement.
That is when the teen started an online search to determine any possible ramifications associated with posting intimate images of another person on the internet, which is when she came upon the FBI website and submitted a report of the incident online, one that landed on the investigator’s desk in LaVerkin.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Jessup’s defense attorney, Anthony Werrett, addressed the presentence report during his remarks before the court, citing a statement made by the defendant and included in the report.
“I have great remorse and I am extremely sorry about my actions,” Werrett recounted from Jessup’s statements made during the presentence investigation.
Werrett went on to say the incident was “an anomaly” for his client who has never been in trouble to the law prior to this case. The attorney went on explain the incident took place when “COVID was raging,” and Jessup was dealing with mental health and family issues and also with a broken engagement that sent him spiraling “down into a play session,” Werrett said.
“He definitely made some poor decisions,” Werrett said in reference to his client, adding that the poor decision making is reflected in the presentence report.
Werrett also said the defendant cut all ties with the area after his arrest, and that Jessup has strong family support and moved up north to be closer to them. He went on to say the defendant is a hard worker who has full-time employment in construction, which is another factor that has helped him to move forward.
“This is a man who’s had integrity and honesty his entire life,” he said of his client. “And he simply made a poor decision” that facilitated another decision, and so on. Werritt also asked the court to consider a 30-day jail sentence with credit for time served.
Prosecutor Eric Gentry, who represented the state during Tuesday’s hearing, addressed the court by saying he agreed with the recommendations as outlined in the presentence report, but countered the defense’s statement that 30 days in jail was an appropriate sentence in the case. He also said the defendant has done little to fix any of the issues that preceded the incidents since his arrest.
He also said the guidelines set forth in the report provided a sentencing range of 0-120 days in jail on each count, and that he was surprised to see the defense recommend a 30-day jail sentence in the case.
“Frankly I don’t understand where the 30 days came from,” Gentry said, adding that Jessup did in fact state he had remorse and was sorry for his actions, but the reason for his remorse pointed to the consequences he suffered after his arrest.
He lost his job, his home, his friends and so on, Gentry said, but his sorrow wasn’t for the victim – it was for what happened after.
The defendant’s sorrow “has everything to do with everything that happened because he victimized somebody” Gentry said, adding that Jessup “has no concern for the victim whatsoever — at least not in his statement.”
Gentry also disagreed with the defense’s claim that Jessup’s actions were a series of poor decisions, but instead he said it was “a selfish and calculated plan to have sex” with the teen and obtain sexual pictures of the girl. Then, Gentry said, when she refused to comply with his requests any longer, the defendant threatened to post the compromising photos online — which was all part of a plan to intimidate her into compliance.
“This is reprehensible behavior,” Gentry said.
Gentry also countered the defense attorney’s statement suggesting there were extenuating circumstances surrounding the defendant’s decision to commit the crimes, adding there were no circumstances that would justify Jessup’s actions – “not a pandemic, not problems with his ex-wife — nothing will justify these actions.”
The prosecutor then requested that Jessup be sentenced to serve at least 120 days in jail, considering that two of the charges were third-degree felonies and there were no mitigating circumstances viable enough to divert from the recommendation as outlined in the report.
Werrett countered by saying his client has taken several positive steps following the arrest, including relocating to a different area, which he said provided a more positive environment, and where his client would find employment. The attorney went on to say the photos were never distributed and that his client has taken many steps to change his life.
Just prior to handing down the sentence, District Judge Jeffery Wilcox said what he found “very troubling” was the defendant’s actions in the case, and at the point when the teen no longer cooperated with him, Wilcox said, it was then that Jessup “threatened to blackmail her by posting her sexually explicit photographs that he requested” on the internet.
The judge reminded the parties it was the teen who was the victim in the case and said he was grateful the girl was able to find the FBI site to report the incident, which is how the case ended up in court.
Addressing the defendant, Wilcox said, “Mr. Jessop you do need to pay a price for the foolish, dumb things that you did,” he said, and added that while the defendant has already paid a price for his crimes he will continue to pay the price. The judge also took under consideration Jessup’s lack of criminal record and the remorse he expressed for the crimes, he said.
Even so, Wilcox addressed the defendant by saying, “You will have repercussions.”
On each of the third-degree felonies, the sentence of 0-5 years in Utah State Prison was suspended, as was the sentence of one year in jail on the misdemeanor charge.
Instead, Wilcox sentenced Jessup to service 30 days in jail and placed him on supervised probation for 48 months. Jessup was also ordered to comply with Group C sex offender conditions, which require that he undergo an evaluation and successfully complete sex offender therapy as determined by the Utah Department of Corrections.
He will also be subject to completing established progressive curfews or electronic monitoring if required by Adult Probation and Parole and have no contact with the victim or anyone under the age of 18 excluding family members. He was also ordered to comply with sex-offender registry requirements.
The judge also ordered Jessup to report to Purgatory Correctional Facility on April 8 by 10 a.m., to begin serving out his sentence. He will also be required to sign a release with Adult Probation and Parole to authorize the agency to inspect any cell phone, internet and employment records.
Finally, Wilcox said, “it goes without saying that any any photographs or images of any matter that you have had with the victim need to be destroyed immediately.”
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