After a two-day trial last week, an  Ellis County jury sentenced 54-year-old Hugh Leon Pierce to 40 years in prison on a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child.

The charge is one of several new laws that went into effect Sept. 1, 2007, under the Texas Children First initiative championed by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The initiative targeted child sexual predators and was patterned after “Jessica’s Law.”

Under the new law’s provisions, a person who is convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child is not eligible for parole and must serve out the sentence day-for-day.

Pierce, whose records indicate both Fort Worth and Waxahachie addresses, has been in custody  at Wayne McCollum Detention Center on an $85,000 bond since his arrest in January 2009.

The case was filed out of Waxahachie and involved a child younger than the age of 14, assistant district attorney Lindy Tober said.

Although the sexual abuse is believed to have started prior to Sept. 1, 2007, Pierce was prosecuted for the offenses that occurred that date and afterwards so he could be charged under the continuous sexual abuse provisions of the law, she said.

It took the six-male, six-female jury about a half-hour to find Pierce guilty and about the same time period to set his punishment at 40 years in prison, Tober said.

The minimum sentence the jury could have assessed was 25 years without parole.

Pierce, who has previously served time in the penitentiary, has prior felony convictions for aggravated robbery, robbery and burglary.

“Continuous sexual abuse is when a person commits two or more acts of sexual abuse against a child over a 30-day period,” Tober said, noting that the victim has to be younger than age 14, with the defendant older than age 17.

The law was not retroactive and only applies to those offenses that occurred after Sept. 1, 2007.

With the law having been in effect for about two years, Tober said she is seeing more continuous sexual abuse cases filed – and all sexual abuse cases are reviewed to see if they meet the criteria, she said.

“We want to make sure we’re filing cases we believe are good, meet the criteria and are really serious,” she said, noting the victim in this case had been repeatedly abused over an extended period of time before making an outcry.

Contact JoAnn at joann@wninews.com or 469-517-1452.