Wray enters plea in sexual assault case
By KELI JACOBI News-Times Staff Potential jurors in the sexual assault trial of Union County’s former chief deputy prosecutor were dismissed after the defendant entered a last-minute plea of no contest to three counts of harassment on Monday.
Joe D. Wray, 52, originally faced one count of thirddegree sexual assault, a class F felony, along with two misdemeanor counts of public sexual indecency. Harassment, a class A misdemeanor, does not require the defendant to register as a sex offender.
Arkansas statute defines harassment as touching or subjecting a person "to offensive physical contact" or otherwise engaging in conduct "that alarms or seriously annoys another person and that serves no legitimate purpose."
Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Edwards ordered Wray to one year of unsupervised probation, assessed a $500 fine on each amended count and $150 in court costs, all payable within 180 days.
Wray, who quietly embraced his wife and oldest daughter before entering the plea, was also ordered to permanently forfeit his law license.
As part of the plea agreement, the state agreed to write a letter to Wray with assurance it would drop any additional prosecution on other issues "that are known as a result of the investigation." The state also agreed to contact the FBI explaining its satisfaction with the outcome in the case.
"The outcome of this allegation that resulted in a no contest plea works to the benefit of all parties concerned," stated Wray’s attorney, Robert Depper, following the sentence.
A no contest plea is entered by a defendant when "he or she understands what the state’s evidence is going to be and that there is a great likelihood the state could prove the case," said Chief Deputy Prosecutor Caren Harp, who was named to the position following Wray’s resignation last year.
Sixth Judicial District Chief Deputy Prosecutor Larry Jegley cited "numerous 404(b)s" – a statute allowing the testimony of past abuse victims to prove motive and intent – which would’ve established a pattern showing Wray repeatedly used his position to prey upon the same types of victims over a period of time.
Jegley said in addition to the direct testimony of victims involved in three separate incidences of abuse that allegedly occurred between November 2004 and February 2005, there were numerous other victims not directly involved in the charges who would’ve testified about Wray’s past behavior.
Patricia Cotterman, an alleged victim in one of the sexual indecency charges against Wray, told the News-Times she was satisfied with the outcome of Monday’s plea.
"As a prosecutor, I got the utmost respect for Mr. Wray," said Cotterman. "As a man, a human being and a husband, I got none."
Cotterman said she turned to Wray for legal advice last year when she faced criminal charges of her own.
She said she had been locked up at the Union County Criminal Justice Facility for several days when she remembered Wray from a previous public encounter at the skating rink where Cotterman was once employed.
Cotterman accused Wray of groping her breasts and hips behind the closed door of the jury room at the justice facility and forcing an openmouthed kiss on her while she was shackled.
"Who they gonna’ believe, me or him?" explained Cotterman, when asked why she didn’t immediately report the incident to authorities. Wray unexpectedly resigned his position on Feb. 7, 2 005, shortly before the allegations of abuse surfaced last year. Prior to his January 1999 assignment as the chief deputy prosecutor of Union County, he was chief deputy prosecutor in the 10 th Judicial District.
When asked what his client’s plans for the future would be without the ability to practice law, Depper responded, "I have no idea."