Vandalia man pleads guilty to 'grooming' child

Austin Ray Lewis

A Vandalia man has pleaded guilty to "grooming" a child under the age of 17, a Class 4 felony.

The grooming statute describes the crime as knowingly using "a computer on-line service, Internet service, local bulletin board service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, a child ... to commit any sex offense ... to distribute photographs depicting the sex organs of the child, or to otherwise engage in any unlawful sexual conduct with a child or with another person believed by the person to be a child."

According to the Fayette County State's Attorney's Office, Austin Lewis, 21, was sentenced in Fayette County Court by Honorable Kevin Parker to a year in state prison. Upon release, he will have to register as a sex offender.

According to court documents, Lewis allegedly knew the victim was between the ages of 13 and 17, and used Snapchat to send a message to make contact with the victim. They met and and authorities alleged Lewis he committed three counts of sexual abuse. However, Lewis pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of grooming.

State's Attorney Joshua C. Morrison said he agreed to the plea to spare the victim the tauma of testifying.

"In all these cases, great deference is given to not putting the victim on trial and allowing the victim to avoid taking the stand," Morrison said. "It's the first thing we think about. A victim between the ages of 13-17 cannot give consent and to have to re-live that on the stand is difficult."

Initially, Lewis was arrested in March and held on a $30,000 bond. On April 16, he pleaded not guilty, demanding a trial by jury. A couple of pre-trial dates were set and he pleaded guilty during the second one, on July 29.

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