Despite his lawyer’s pleas for a sentence that would not “destroy” his life, a former vacation Bible school teacher suffering from a brain disorder will spend the next 12 years in a state prison after he told a judge on Thursday he is guilty of twice trying to sexually assault a teenage boy in Clover last year.
“It would be a great thing if I could just wave a wand and fix this ... fix you,” Circuit Court Donald Hocker said before handing down a sentence lighter than the 20 years Michael Ramey could have faced. “There’s no way to do that. At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to protect the community.”
Ramey, 23, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault with the intent to commit criminal sexual conduct with a minor, earning him a no-parole sentence that doesn’t come with the promise of probation. Any rehabilitation will come from the state Department of Corrections while he’s imprisoned, said his attorney, York County Public Defender Harry Dest.
In September 2012, York County Sheriff’s Office detectives met with a 13-year-old boy and his father when the boy alleged that Ramey tried to force him into sex on two occasions, said Erin Joyner, the assistant York County solicitor who prosecuted Ramey.
The first time, Ramey rubbed the boy’s legs before grabbing his crotch. The boy pushed Ramey away. Not long after, Ramey touched the boy again, cornering him in a room, pulling down his shorts, pushing him onto a bed, climbing on top of him. The victim managed to push Ramey away.
Two months later, Ramey, of Shelby, N.C., was charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor before his release on a $50,000 bond. He told police the boy came on to him first while he was drunk and after they both became scared while using a Ouija board. He told authorities, “It was not rape; it was consensual,” Joyner said.
Investigators sifted through the boy’s cell phone and found several messages from Ramey in which he propositioned the boy for sex and asked several times if he would spend the night.
Ramey had been living with the victim’s friend and the friend’s mother after the mother met him while he taught vacation Bible school at a church, Joyner said. The attempted assault happened while the victim spent the night at his friend’s home.
Dest objected to Joyner introducing details about Ramey’s previous criminal history and details of conversations he had with therapists. Disclosing that evidence, he said, would create a “chilling effect” for victims in similar situations fearful that confidential conversations with “sensitive” information will be aired in court. Though counselors said in records they were concerned about things Ramey told them, none of those revelations or subsequent allegations resulted in charges or convictions.
Judge Hocker allowed Joyner to unveil Ramey’s criminal history in North Carolina, which includes a 2006 conviction for first-degree sexual offense after police said he forced a 6-year-old boy into sex at a church while walking with him to the restroom. He was sentenced to probation, Joyner said, but made to attend counseling sessions. Two years later, he was disciplined at school for allegedly touching a female student’s private parts.
He was sent to New Hope Carolinas, a juvenile treatment facility in Rock Hill, where he stayed until he was released on his 21st birthday in 2011. Less than a year later, Joyner said he re-offended, this time in Clover.
“Cases like this are difficult and they are hard to understand,” Dest told Hocker. Ramey, he said, “is a very damaged and broken person and ... it’s why we’re here today.”
A high school dropout, Ramey has received disability benefits for nearly a year because he suffers from chronic brain syndrome, a brain disorder typically associated with decreased mental function. His IQ has been tested twice, Dest said. The first evaluation, in 2006, showed that he possessed a 56-point IQ. During the second test two years ago, his “full IQ score” was in the 71 to 80 range. Someone with an IQ under 70 is generally considered to have limited mental capacity. Issues of competency did not apply to Ramey since he is able to function on his own and understand his charges, Dest said.
His father died when Ramey was five. At age 9, a neighbor sexually assaulted him so severely that he was hospitalized. That neighbor was sentenced to three years in prison, while Ramey suffered anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. When he was 14, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died about a year later while Ramey was “under the purview” of the N.C. criminal justice system for his own sex crimes.
“He has no family,” Dest said. Three people sat in the back of the courtroom to support Ramey. Before he stood before the judge, Ramey looked back at them and mouthed: “Pray ... pray ... pray.”
Dest asked Hocker not to deliver a punishment that would “destroy a 23-year-old man’s life” but “give him a chance at redemption” that would have included house arrest. Another alternative Dest lobbied for was a split sentence in which the judge would place Ramey on probation, but hang a hefty sentence over his head. If he violated that probation, the judge would mete out the full sentence.
Ramey, too, begged for house arrest. “By sending me to prison, I don’t think that would help me,” he said. “I would rather be on probation or on house arrest, where I cannot come out of the house.”
Joyner argued against mercy. Ramey’s rape, she said, “was tragic,” but “a 9-year-old victim is not before the court.”
“A 23-year-old who victimized a child is before the court,” she said. “He put himself in the company of children. We believe, your honor, he is an incredibly dangerous person.”
Ramey’s destroyed lives the same way his life was shattered by his attacker, she said.
Neither the victim nor his parents were in court on Thursday. The victim, Joyner said, “did a service by coming forward.”