A former Waco High School assistant band director who sexually abused a 15-year-old student in the school band hall multiple times in 2014 was sentenced to six years in prison Tuesday.
Jurors in Waco’s 54th State District Court recommended that Jason Ronald Hodges, 32, be sentenced to six years in prison and fined $5,000 after his guilty plea to indecency with a child by exposure. Jurors also recommended that Hodges be placed on probation for 10 years on a count of indecency with a child by contact and fined $5,000.
Retired Judge George Allen stacked the sentences, meaning Hodges will serve his term on probation after he serves his prison term. He must serve at least three years in prison before he can seek parole.
Hodges was named in a nine-count indictment in June 2015 that charged him with an improper relationship between educator and student, two counts of sexual assault of a child and five counts of indecency with a child by contact, all second-degree felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Hodges pleaded guilty in August 2016 to two counts of sexual assault of a child in a plea bargain with the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office that called for a five-year prison term followed by 10 years probation on the second count.
Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th State District Court rejected the plea bargain and allowed Hodges to withdraw his guilty plea. That resulted in a new agreement with prosecutors, who waived seven of the nine counts in the indictment and reduced one of the indecency counts to indecency with a child by exposure, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In an unusual move, prosecutors Hilary LaBorde and Evan O’Donnell and Hodges’ attorney, Jeff Kearney, told jurors in opening statements Tuesday morning that the state and the defense had agreed on a punishment recommendation and both sides urged the jury to accept it.
Jurors went along with the agreed punishment, except they added one year to the prison sentence. Hodges, who got married 18 months ago and lives with his parents in Kerrville, faced up to 20 years in prison on one of the counts and 10 years in prison on the other.
LaBorde acknowledged that it was strange for the state and the defense to agree, especially when a judge had rejected the initial plea agreement and the case had reached the point of a jury trial.
LaBorde and O’Donnell explained that the state took the unusual stance because the girl’s parents refused to allow her to testify for fear of further traumatizing her, and Hodges accepted responsibility for his actions and will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Also, they said, he will never teach again, he will serve prison time and then be supervised on probation for up to 10 years and be able receive better sex offender treatment on probation than in prison.
“We respect the verdict of the jury and the effort they put into it,” said Jason P. Darling, another of Hodges’ attorneys. “I think it meets the objectives of both sides in this trial, and again, he regrets what he put the girl through.”
In a sort of role reversal, prosecutors called Ronnie Fanning, a McLennan County probation supervisor, to explain the sex offender caseload and treatment, while the defense called Dr. Lee Carter, who specializes in forensic psychology and who testifies for the prosecution about 80 percent of the time.
In cases in which a trial defendant charged with a sex crime is seeking probation, it is normally the defense who calls Fanning to explain the ins and outs of sex offender supervision. That is usually followed by prosecutors downplaying probation for sex offenders with the normal argument that it does not require them to do much more than the average law-abiding citizen.
Fanning testified that Hodges, whom Carter described as “very bright” and low risk to re-offend, will get better treatment on probation than in prison. She said he will have weekly therapy on probation, a curfew, unscheduled home and work visits, polygraph tests and will be prohibited from child-safety zones.
The girl’s mother said the accusations came to light when she found her daughter, a Waco High sophomore, up late one night sending messages or her cellphone. She was messaging someone, but the messages were being concealed through a chat function on a trivia game app.
After realizing she was talking with Hodges, she reported it to the school principal and it was later revealed that Hodges and her daughter had messaged each other thousands of times.
“She covered for him at first,” the girl’s mother said. “She said it is not a big deal. Then she said it was her fault, he is going to get into trouble. I told her he is an adult, it is not your fault.”
She said the experience devastated her daughter, especially after news reports of Hodges’ arrest led her classmates to conclude she was involved.
She said the girl started music training in the fifth grade and wanted to become a band director.
“This changed her entire career trajectory,” her mother said.
The parents concluded she would not be able to handle a public trial and decided their daughter would not cooperate with the prosecution, she said.
“We weren’t able to protect her then, so we want to protect her as much as possible now,” she said. “I understand the maximum sentence is 20 years, but if that is not what he gets, then that is fine as long as she doesn’t have to testify.”