Joseph Meili is a Missouri man who was spared jail time and sentenced only to probation after he pleaded guilty to molesting an 11-year-old girl.
Meili, 22, was sentenced to five years probation Friday, the Springfield News-Leader reported.
Meili pleaded guilty to third-degree child molestation, though the conviction will be removed from his record if he successfully completes probation.
Meili met the girl on a dating site. The girl told Meili she was 18, his attorney said.
His attorney said that Meili was “essentially catfished.”
The child was reported missing after she went to meet Meili for a sexual encounter.
Meili was charged with kidnapping, statutory sodomy, and statutory rape but accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty only to a molestation charge.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Joseph Meili Was Charged With Kidnapping, Sodomy, and Rape
Meili met the 11-year-old on an online dating app called MeetMe, HuffPost reported. The child told him that she was 18, according to Meili’s attorney, Scott Pierson.
The two agreed to meet in person in July of 2017.
Meili picked the girl up near her home and drove to his apartment in Springfield, where he had a sexual encounter with the girl.
The child was reported missing while she was with Meili.
Police and sheriff’s deputies joined firefighters in searching for the girl near her home in Republic, Missouri.
The girl eventually returned to the home but was found packing a bag to leave again, police said.
When police contacted him over the phone, Meili claimed he had no idea what the officer was talking about, USA Today reported.
“I’m freaking out,” he told police.
Meili agreed to meet officers by a McDonald’s but reneged on the plan the following day.
After speaking with Meili’s roommates, officers tracked down Meili to a Fuddruckers location and arrested him.
Meili was charged with kidnapping, statutory sodomy, and statutory rape.
2. Meili’s Attorney Claimed The 11-Year-Old Girl ‘Catfished’ Him
Pierson said in court that Meili was “essentially catfished” by the girl because she told him she was 18.
“He felt horrible about the entire incident,” Pierson told HuffPost. “He’s going to be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life … It’s a tough case. Neither side is really going to get justice here.”
Greene County Senior Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Fax rejected Pierson’s claim, saying it was “absolutely” impossible that Meili did not realize she was under 18.
“I think dating apps make it easier to get into these types of situations, to be sure,” she told HuffPost, “but to actually see her in person … He knew and just decided to go along with it anyway.”
“It’s just really hard for people to wrap their minds around the fact that these are children,” she added. “They might wear makeup and be on dating apps and try to hook up with older men but, at the end of the day, these are children.”
3. The Child Tested Positive for Chlamydia
Investigators found Meili’s semen in the girl’s underwear, USA Today reported.
The child subsequently tested positive for chlamydia.
She told police she fell asleep at Meili’s apartment and woke up feeling as though something sexual had happened, The Jefferson City News Tribune reported. Several weeks later, she admitted to having sex with Meili.
4. Meili Was Sentenced to Probation
Despite being charged with a series of serious felonies, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal that allowed Meili to only plead guilty to a single third-degree child molestation charge, which carries three to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Meili seven years in prison and a 120-day sex offender program but Judge Calvin Holden sentenced him to five years of probation instead.
Meili will have to register as a sex offender as part of the plea deal.
“I think this is a just outcome,” Pierson said, according to the News-Leader.
5. Outrage Over Judge Calvin Holden’s Light Sentence
Pierson and Fax both told HuffPost that it was common for statutory rape and child molestation cases in the county to result in only probation rather than prison time.
Judge Calvin Holden has faced similar outrage over his sentences in the past.
In 2016, he sentenced a 24-year-old man convicted of sexually abusing an 8-year-old he was babysitting to just 30 days in jail and five years of probation, The News-Leader reported.
In February, Holden sentenced a twice-convicted rapist to five years of probation after he raped a women one month into his probation for another rape of a 16-year-old girl who worked for a restaurant he managed, The Springfield News-Sun reported.
“We strongly believe that one of the best ways to lower the rates of sexual assault is to punish perpetrators,” Me Too Springfield said in a statement at the time. “Rulings like this send a strong message to rapists that they can get away with it.”
A Change.org petition called for Holden to be removed from his position.
“Judge Holden failed to send the message that child molestation is morally wrong and against the law,” the petition said.