Jeffery Merritt McCumber, Jr., 34, of Indian Springs
Polk County Man Sentenced by Jury to 60 Years in Prison with No Parole for Child Sexual Abuse, LIVINGSTON, May 16, 2022 - A Polk County jury deliberated approximately two hours Friday morning (May 13) before returning a “guilty” verdict against 35 year old Jeffery Merritt McCumber, Jr., 34, of Indian Springs for the Aggravated First Degree Felony Offense of Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Young Child. The trial, conducted in the 411th District Court of Polk County before District Judge John Wells, began with jury selection on Monday and the presentation of testimony on Thursday. The case was prosecuted by Polk County District Attorney William Lee Hon. A grand jury indictment alleged that between June and September of 2016, McCumber had committed multiple acts of sexual abuse including Indecency with a Child and Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child against a six year old female victim. During testimony on Thursday, Hon presented the testimony of the child victim, now 13, who described ongoing instances of sexual abuse during her childhood while the defendant lived with her mother. The victim testified that the abuse happened in two different residences in Indian Springs where she resided with McCumber and her mother. In questioning by Hon, the victim described how in June of 2020, she finally confided in her aunt regarding what the defendant had done to her. The aunt, in turn, immediately reported the child’s outcry of abuse to the Polk County Sheriff’s Department. Also testifying at trial were Kaycee Hendrix, a forensic interviewer with Childrenz Haven (Polk County’s Child Advocacy Center) who interviewed the victim, Kristi Griffin, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner with CHI St. Luke’s Hospital who performed a sexual assault examination, and Polk County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Craig Finigan who conducted the criminal investigation.
Following the guilty verdict, Hon presented evidence of McCumber’s criminal background which included convictions for Burglary, Theft, Evading Arrest and Violation of a Protective Order. In addition, Hon presented the testimony of former Alabama Coushatta Tribal Police Officer Michael Bentley who described arresting McCumber following a January, 2019 traffic stop where McCumber was charged with Third Degree Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance and Tampering With Physical Evidence after McCumber was caught attempting a swallow a plastic bag containing a quantity of Methamphetamine.
In his closing argument to the jury District Attorney Hon characterized McCumber as "...a career criminal who’s record suggested that he would never learn his lesson.” Hon implored the jury to “protect the children of Polk County and send a message that sexual exploitation of children would never be tolerated.” The jury deliberated approximately one hour and a half before returning a sentence of sixty years in prison.
According to Hon, McCumber’s sentence will have to be served without any possibility of parole. The crime of Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Young Child was established by the Texas Legislature in 2007 as part of “Jessica’s Law,” Hon stated. In February 2005, a nine-year-old girl named Jessica Lunsford was abducted from her bed in her family home in Homosassa, Florida. Her body was discovered buried in a shallow grave, shrouded in a garbage bag, behind the mobile home where a neighbor named John Evander Couey lived. He was arrested and later convicted of the child’s kidnapping, rape, and murder. Public outcry rose from a local to national level in this case, spurred not only by the revelation at trial that Mr. Couey was a registered sex offender but that the child had been buried alive.
State legislatures across the country responded to the Jessica Lunsford case by enacting versions of “Jessica’s Law” as it was initially drafted into law by the Florida Statehouse. Essentially, “Jessica’s Law” focused on children under the age of 12 years and instituted longer sentencing (more time behind bars) along with lifetime tracking via GPS (global positioning technology) of the convicted.
Texas passed its own version of Jessica’s Law in 2007 after debate in the House and Senate and has been codified in Section 21.02 of the Texas Penal Code. It carries a potential sentence of 25 years to Life in prison with no possibility of parole.
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