Grants Pass abuse case could bring 25 years

Authorities urge tough sentence for man after guilty plea in sexual abuse of minors

Federal prosecutors are recommending a 25-year prison sentence for a man who admitted to befriending a Grants Pass woman with the intention of sexually abusing her two teenage daughters.

James Robert Powell, 50, is scheduled for sentencing at the U.S. District Court in Medford on June 24. He has pleaded guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes and using a minor in a visual display of sexually explicit conduct.

According to a sentencing document filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith Harper, Powell befriended the mother of the 15- and 13-year-old girls sometime in the past two years.

The single mother worked at a Grants Pass restaurant where Powell was a frequent customer. The two struck up a relationship, with Powell offering to help the family financially, Harper wrote.

"After obtaining the mother's trust, (Powell) betrayed that trust by taking the young girls out of state to California, after telling their mother he was taking the girls to the Oregon Coast," Harper wrote.

In March 2012, Powell told the mother he wanted to take the girls to the coast to help him operate a booth to sell stickers and sunglasses, police said. Instead, Powell drove them to Smith River, Calif., and rented a hotel room. On the way, he stopped by a store and bought alcohol, which he gave to the girls later that night, Harper wrote.

The girls became "extremely intoxicated" that night, and Powell sexually abused them in a hot tub and in a bed. He also took photographs and videos of the incidents.

In order to buy the girls' silence, he took them to a salon and bought them presents, Harper wrote.

One of the girls told investigators that she feared Powell would hurt her or her family if she told. In addition, Powell asked the girls to introduce him to their friends, Harper wrote.

The case came to police attention soon after the trip when the 15-year-old abruptly ran away from home and threatened to kill herself. She told police that Powell had sexually abused her and her sister on the trip.

Grants Pass Department of Public Safety detectives seized Powell's cellphone and a video camera. They turned the evidence over to the Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force, which found evidence of the abuse in the digital files.

A look into Powell's background uncovered a previous rape charge in 1994.

Powell initially lied to investigators, telling them that the girls had made up the incident because he was no longer supporting the family financially.

However, Powell's DNA was found on one of the girls' underwear, and the video evidence was conclusive.

He pleaded guilty to the felony sex crimes and could spend a minimum of 25 years in prison. The maximum penalty for his crimes is life in prison.

The sentencing statement said the abuse has severely damaged the victims' family.

"According to (the 15-year-old's) family, (the girl) has changed dramatically since being raped by (Powell)," Harper wrote. "Her parents noticed signs that (the victim) was cutting herself after the rape. She told them the cutting eases her mental pain. She has attempted suicide twice since the rape."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or

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