Jeramy Michael Bell wept in a York County courtroom after his lawyer said he found God before he was arrested and accused of sexually assaulting children.
"I sincerely hope you have now found Christ," Judge Keith Kelly told Bell, after sentencing him to 30 years in prison.
Bell, 29, of York County, pleaded guilty Thursday to three counts of assault of a high and aggravated nature. He admitted to molesting three children under age 10 in 2014 and 2017.
Bell cried in court, apologizing for his actions. He asked that his family forgive him someday and said he hoped they would "allow him back in their life.".
"I'm sorry," Bell said as he cried. "Hopefully one day they will forgive me."
Bell had been charged with 16 counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor, involving five victims. But prosecutors and Bell's lawyer agreed to a negotiated plea deal, on cases involving three victims, in exchange for a sentence of 30 years in prison, court testimony showed Thursday.
Bell had initially been charged with an incident involving one victim after South Carolina social services workers told police of the initial accusations. But other charges were added, involving other victims, after York County Sheriff's Office Det. Mark Motz started investigating, court records show. Bell had been jailed without bond since his arrest in September.
16th Circuit assistant Solicitor Sharon Kopp said Bell must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life after his release from prison.
Jessica Russo, Bell's lawyer, told the judge that Bell was on drugs during the period of the crimes. She said his acceptance of God before his arrest, and while in jail, stopped Bell from continuing his actions.
Drugs were "leading him to do things," Russo said, referring to Bell. "God helped him stop what he was doing."
The victims were not in court. The mother of one of the victims was in court, and attempted to address the judge, but after crying uncontrollably, she chose not to speak.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald