A former Augusta safety officer entered a guilty plea to having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl.
Jerry Ballinger, 44, of Augusta was facing a trial next week on two charges of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. He pleaded guilty Friday morning to one count of attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child. He will be sentenced at 10 a.m. April 7.
“Between April 1 and April 30 of 2013 I attempted to have sexual intercourse with the alleged victim. She was 14 at the time,” Ballinger said during his allocution.
Ballinger made it obvious he was not entirely satisfied with the agreement he was able to reach with the state or with his attorney.
Before entering his plea, Chief Judge David Ricke asked Ballinger if he agreed with the amended charges against him.
Ballinger took issue with the use of the word “knowingly” in the statement the prosecutors will read at his sentencing.
“The state has agreed to limit what they will say at sentencing, but the prosecuting attorney will read this statement at sentencing,” Ricke said. “I want to make sure we have a true plea agreement before we continue.”
Ballinger conferred with his attorney, James Watts, for several minutes before deciding to proceed with his guilty plea.
The charge of attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child is a level five person felony that could carry a sentence including as much as 31 to 136 months in jail. However, due to Ballinger’s limited criminal history, it is possible under Kansas law for his sentence to be confined to probation and a possible fine.
During standard questioning of any defendant agreeing to plead guilty, Ricke asked Ballinger is he was satisfied with his defense attorney. After a significant pause, Ballinger said he was. Ricke made note of the pause and asked why he hesitated before answering the question.
“I’m satisfied,” Ballinger said.
After the conviction was confirmed, Watts asked the court to remove the electronic monitoring device Ballinger has had to wear and pay for since his release from jail on bond.
“Mr. Ballinger is unemployed and his wife is also currently unemployed as she completes work as a student teacher,” Watts said. “They have no income. There have been no issues during the monitoring and he is not a flight risk. This monitoring is a financial strain on his family.”
Assistant County Attorney Cheryl Pierce objected to removing the device.
She pointed out even after he was charged with the crimes, Ballinger continued to follow the victim on her Instagram account, although he had not knowingly made any attempt to contact her directly. She has since blocked him from being able to see her posts.
Page 2 of 2 - “So he saw everything that she puts out for the world to see?” Ricke asked.
Watts said there was no evidence he had bothered the victim and looking at posts doesn’t violate the terms of his bond.
Ricke agreed for the most part but he added that, “a better practice would have been to block access to her.” He said he was pleased the victim had blocked the defendant.
Pierce said her concerns stem from the nature of the crime.
“A 44 year old man trying to have sex with a 14 year old girl is a risk to all children in the community,” Pierce said.
She said it made the crime more detestable because he was a safety officer and the victim was a junior firefighter at the time of the offense.
He said he understood the concern the state has and wants Ballinger to have no contact with the victim or her family as he remains out on $50,000 bond.
However, since the new charges don’t carry a presumption of prison time, the situation had changed and he did remove the electronic monitor from Ballinger.
Ballinger must take part in the Kansas Offender Registration list due to the nature of the charges to which he admitted.