#minorsextrafficking | Fort Bend County agencies defend 30-day sentence for sex offender



A 30-day jail sentence with probation for a doctor who admitted to sexually assaulting a child repeatedly over several months has sparked outrage in the community, with many questioning whether or not justice was served. According to the multiple agencies involved in the case, however, sentencing sex offenders can be complicated and sentences are harsher than they seem.

On April 16, Dr. Hanna Elias Francis, 62, a podiatrist from Katy, began a 30-day jail sentence for the crime of sexually assaulting a child. While Francis assaulted the child numerous times, his official charge was two counts of felony sexual assault of a child.

According to his arrest warrant, Francis sexually assaulted a minor child “nearly every single night” over the period of several months in 2019, his victim said. The assaults often occurred during what was supposed to be an athletic massage. Francis verified the victim’s claims, according to his judgement for deferred adjudication.

Once Francis completes his sentence, court documents show, he will be placed on 10 years deferred adjudication, meaning he will avoid a prison sentence and he can continue to practice medicine unless the state board of podiatry intervenes.

Provided he adheres to the terms of his probation, in 10 years, his conviction will be expunged. Francis will also have to register as a sex offender, pay $1,410 in fines and perform 400 hours of community service.

On March 30, Francis entered a guilty plea and waived his right to trial, admitting that he sexually assaulted the child. In return for his cooperation, Francis avoided a prison sentence. The charge of sexual assault of a child can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, according to his attorney, Brett Landriault.

The 30-day sentence and 10-year probation raised questions regarding how Francis could receive a considerably reduced sentence after admitting to sexually assaulting a minor.

Wes Whittig, executive assistant for the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office, said sentences like Francis’ are not uncommon, especially for sex offenders.

In March of 2019, Gabriel William Price, age 24, pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of a child under the age of 17. He was given five years deferred adjudication by a Fort Bend County judge.

Also in Fort Bend County, in 2016, Isidro Mireles was found guilty of raping a woman and was sentenced to five years probation.

While Whittig was unable to comment on Francis’ case specifically, he noted there are many factors that may be considered for a deferred adjudication sentence.

Primarily, he said, if the case went to trial, the child victim would be forced to testify. The prosecution often consults the victims to see if they would be willing to testify, and many state that they would rather let their attacker go with a lighter judgment if it means the child doesn’t have to speak in court.

“It is a common consideration to not put the child victims on the witness stand, which would be required in a trial because that is very traumatic,” Whittig said. “We are required by law to notify victims of plea arrangements and agreements, so these agreements aren’t done without their knowledge and, really, consent.”

Ruthanne Mefford, chief executive officer for the Child Advocates of Fort Bend, agreed. The child advocate agency interviewed the victim and performed a forensic analysis on her after she came forward. The agency works alongside law enforcement and the district attorney’s office in prosecuting sexual predators.

While Mefford said she cannot comment on this case directly, it is often in the best interest of the victim not to testify. “Sometimes testifying can be as traumatic as the sexual assault itself,” she said.

Laundriault verified that Francis’ plea was the result of a negotiation with the district attorney’s office.

Mefford also stated her emphatic faith in the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office. “I can tell you, (Fort Bend County District Attorney) Brian Middleton does everything in his power to make sure there is justice for these children,” she said. “Without even knowing the details of the case, I can tell you, his office wouldn’t accept a plea unless it was in the best interest of the child.”

Grace Holden, sexual assault victim’s advocate and sex trafficking survivor, understands challenges of seeking justice for a victim that doesn’t want to testify, but she believes the courts should push for harsher sentences regardless.

As chairwoman of the board and survivor’s council for Elite Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating sexual exploitation and trafficking in Texas, Holden frequently councils sexual assault victims, mostly children, and helps prepare them for trial.

Holden encounters many victims who don’t want to testify, and while she sympathizes with prosecution, she still believes a 30-day jail sentence with 10 years probation is a slight to the victim.

“Many victims do not want to talk, but I still believe there should be guidelines and things in place – rules, laws, what have you – where they still have to be punished,” she said. “They still have to go through the system.”

The sentences need to be harsher, she said, even if a victim won’t testify.

Holden believes conditions like probation make victims less likely to come forward as well. “We have enough trouble convincing children to stand up to their attackers,” she said. “If we say, ‘Well, even if (the perpetrator) admits what they did, they still won’t go to prison unless you’re willing to face them, it makes them not want to press charges at all.’”



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