Editor’s note: The following story contains a description of an alleged crime of a sexual nature. Readers are encouraged to use their own discretion when deciding whether to read this article.
A Juneau man was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison with 12 years suspended for second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.
That’s eight years to serve for Joseph R. Nell, 41. With “good time,” which is the Department of Corrections policy that mandates for every two days in prison, one day is knocked off the imposed sentence for good conduct, Nell will be released from prison in five years when he’s 46 years old.
Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg sentenced Nell in accordance with a plea deal reached by prosecutors. The deal requires Nell to be on supervised probation for 15 years after he’s released from prison and prohibits him from contacting the victim in the case and her immediate family as well as minors under 16 years old. He will be required to register as a sex offender.
Nell was originally indicted by a grand jury in May 2011 on five counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor for allegedly sexually penetrating a child multiple times over a seven-year period. The child, whom Nell knew, is under 13 years of age.
First-degree sexual abuse of a minor is an unclassified felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison.
Nell was arrested by the Juneau Police Department on a $250,000 arrest warrant a day after the indictment was issued. Prosecutors said the victim reported the abuse to her mother, who contacted school authorities. School authorities reported it to the Office of Children’s Services and police, and the child was then interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center in Juneau.
In September, Nell pleaded guilty to the reduced charge — second-degree sexual abuse of a minor. That charge encompasses knowingly engaging in sexual contact with the victim, rather than penetration.
That’s a class ‘B’ felony that also has a maximum punishment of 99 years in prison, but it carries a presumptive sentencing range of five to 15 years for first time felony offenders.
The plea deal dropped the remaining charges.
The victim’s mother testified before the court on Wednesday on behalf of her daughter, who did not attend the hearing. The mother detailed for the judge how Nell’s actions have affected her daughter’s well-being, physically, psychologically and emotionally.
“My once carefree little girl is now fearful and wants to spend a lot of time alone,” the mother said, adding that the victim continues to have nightmares at night, and that she and will continue to attend counseling on a regular basis. “She’s not as outgoing as she once was and doesn’t want many friends because they might find out what happened to her.”
The mother said the revelation of the abuse was shocking, but also shocking was that close friends, coworkers and family — many of whom wrote letters on Nell’s behalf and attended the sentencing hearing — chose “loyalty to a sex offender over the victim.”
At the time of his arrest, Nell was a respected employee of the University of Alaska Southeast as the computer systems maintenance operator. When he was released on bail, he was allowed to continue working for UAS remotely from Ketchikan where he stayed with a third-party custodian. His employment ended once he was remanded after changing his plea to begin serving his sentence, according to his attorney Julie Willoughby.
The mother continued to say that she was glad the justice system put Nell behind bars.
“We are grateful for the justice system,” she said. “Though not swift, it made sure that the defendant pays for his crime against a little girl. She will survive because she is a strong little girl, but she will be hurting for a long time.”
Nell has consistently denied the allegations to his family, despite changing his plea to guilty in court, according to Judge Pallenberg. But Pallenberg said pleading guilty is considered an admission of guilt under the law.
“Based on that plea of guilty, for the court’s purposes Mr. Nell’s guilt is established,” Pallenberg said. “Perhaps that’s as much as can be expected at this point for Mr. Nell, and perhaps admitting the same fact to his family is a bridge too far.”
Nell’s family members declined to talk to the press after the hearing.
Pallenberg said he also reviewed a “victim impact statement” that the girl submitted to the court, which indicated to him that there were “indications of truth” in the allegations.
While the sentence that was imposed is substantially less than what Nell was originally facing, the jail sentence is still lengthy, Pallenberg said.
“That’s a substantial sentence, and it ensures that during the bulk of this victim’s minority that this will not happen again and it won’t happen to anyone else,” he said, adding that community condemnation is extremely high for such crimes and that isolating Nell from the public was one of the sentencing factors he considered.Pallenberg added, “I think one can debate from a philosophical standpoint what the sentence ought to be, but for the crime for which Mr. Nell is convicted — sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree — the sentence of eight years to serve falls basically in the mid-range of the five to 15 year presumptive term, right below the mid-point of that range. It is the time that, prior to the change of the statutes, was the presumptive term for sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.