WAXAHACHIE — After almost two hours of deliberation, an Ellis County jury sentenced Dennis Ray Avery to five life sentences in prison and five $10,000 fines on Thursday afternoon.
The sentences for the 57-year-old Waxahachie resident will run consecutively.
Avery pleaded guilty to four charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child and one charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14 years old on Tuesday.
According to the indictments, Avery sexually abused children under six-years-old. He was booked into the Wayne McCollum Detention Center at 11 p.m. on May 16, 2016, and has remained in custody ever since with bonds totaling $400,000.
Earlier in the year, Avery was offered a plea bargain by the Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office. Court records show he rejected the offer of 40 years in prison on June 1.
Cindy Ermatinger, the 443rd Judicial District Court Judge, presented the charge to the jury, stating they could sentence Avery to prison for life — or not more than 99 years but not less than 25 years — on each count. The jury also had the option to assess a fine not to exceed $10,000 on each count.
Following the presentation of the charge, Ellis County Assistant District Attorneys Jake Heffernan and Nicole Crain and defense attorney Kent McGuire presented their closing arguments.
Crain asked the jury to sentence Avery to five-life sentences so that other children would not be put at risk.
“The truth is that it does not matter how kind he is or how many times he went to church. He stole the innocence of six little girls. We are asking for five life sentences,” Crain told the court. “What you have heard is the punishment phase. You can consider every offense that he has perpetrated. These six girls are not the only victims but so are the parents. Give them a voice.”
McGuire followed Crain and asked the jury to consider a lesser punishment for his client.
“It is not my intent to diminish what he did. Dennis is 58 years old. If he were given a 25-year sentence, he would be released at 83. His life would be strictly controlled and would be unlikely to re-offend,” McGuire stated. “I am asking for 25 years. It is not likely he would live that long. He would be subjected to harm from other prisoners.”
Heffernan then spoke to the jury, stating Avery can’t be trusted and giving him the possibility to be released is a risk to the community.
“He could have talked to friends, family or church members but he didn’t. Even the defendant has stated in the video with (Ellis County Sheriff’s) Sgt. Joe Fitzgerald that he deserves the maximum penalty,” Heffernan said. “Not only does he deserve a life sentence but you got to think about the risk. The question that you have to consider is, are you willing to take that risk? You know in your heart and minds as he sits there today he is a monster and deserves a life sentence in each case.”
Before closing arguments, McGuire called Kerry Moore to the stand, who told the court he has known Avery and his family for the past 14 years. Moore was also his pastor for four years.
McGuire asked Moore about what type of person Avery is and about his character. Moore told the court that Avery never made a negative comment about anyone and was considered a friend.
However, after Avery and his family left the church, Moore thought his personality changed. Moore stated that, in one meeting, Avery made disparaging comments about people at his new church, which was “so out of character.”
Moore added that he found out Avery had been in an auto accident and had sustained a head injury.
Ellis County Assistant District Attorney Nicole Crain asked Moore about his contact with the defendant after Avery left his church. Moore told the court that it was good early on but later became sporadic.
Following Moore’s testimony, Avery took the stand and addressed the court.
McGuire asked Avery about his interest in young girls, to which he stated began in his late 20s or early 30s. Avery stated he had been able to suppress the feelings until the auto accident in October 2015. At that time, his wife ran an in-home daycare.
“After the accident, I had too much time on my hands. I was struggling with my faith and turned my back on God. I was trying hard to be all of the things that I was supposed to be. I started to drifting away and stopped teaching Sunday school,” Avery explained. “Maybe in prison I can get some help and someone can explain it (my actions).”
McGuire asked Avery if had sought out help from a person such as a psychologist. Avery stated that he was “too embarrassed” and thought he might get “turned in.”
Avery then read a letter to the court sharing his remorse saying that he “takes full responsibility for his actions.”
Under cross-examination, Heffernan presented evidence from Avery’s cell phone. The evidence showed Avery’s search history that was of a sexual nature from April 2015, which predated the accident.
“How do you expect the jury to believe that the accident was the trigger when your search history pre-dated the accident," Heffernan asked Avery.
“I don’t. I am sorry,” Avery responded
Heffernan then asked Avery what he would think if someone did to his daughter or granddaughters what he did to the five girls.
Avery stated that he would want them punished.
Heffernan then asked Avery how long would he want that person punished.
After a long pause, Avery stated, “For life.”
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