A judge in Mississippi has handed down the maximum prison sentence to a father with an alleged history of physically abusing his children for killing his 20-year-old son. Judge Jon Mark Weathers sentenced Joel Chad Graves to serve 20 years behind bars for fatally shooting Joel Scott Graves in the neck with a shotgun inside the apartment they shared in 2018, records reviewed by Law&Crime show.
Chad last week pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter in his son’s death. According to a report from local newspaper the Laurel Leader-Call, Chad’s defense attorney reached a deal with prosecutors in the Forrest County District Attorney’s Office stipulating that in exchange for his guilty plea, they would drop a charge second-degree murder.
Prior to formally announcing Chad’s sentence, Judge Weathers allowed the victim’s mother, Jessica Powell Jaramillo, to address Chad. She reportedly used the opportunity to launch into a diatribe against her ex-husband, beginning by recounting his allegedly violent past, which past prosecutors would likely not have been allowed to bring up if the case went to trial.
“He beat five wives who left him because of domestic violence. He has a long history of abusing his children, and Scott took the brunt of that abuse,” Jaramillo reportedly said. “He’s been allowed to abuse people — mostly women, children and vulnerable adults — with absolutely zero remorse or consequences. It’s always someone else’s fault — but he is the common denominator.”
The Hattiesburg American reported that the father and son on Aug. 16, 2018 got into an argument inside their apartment. At some point, the two reportedly fought over a shotgun, and Chad claimed the gun discharged and hit Scott in the throat. However, Hattiesburg Police detective Erik Herrin reportedly testified at a preliminary hearing that forensic evidence showed that Chad shot Scott while the young man was lying on the ground. The detective also reportedly noted that there were shotgun pellets embedded in the floor near Scott’s body.
In addition to claiming the shooting was an act of self-defense, Chad also said he was suffering from PTSD stemming from his military service.
Jaramillo said Chad’s violence towards his five children was nothing new; she said the other four had already completely cut him out of their lives before Scott’s death.
She reportedly said that when Scott was 16, Chad “held [Scott’s] head and kneed him in the face leaving the child’s eye nearly “hanging out” of the socket. She also claimed he gave the boy methamphetamine on at least one occasion.
Per Jaramillo, Chad regularly pulled guns on the kids and pistol-whipped them. In one instance, she claimed he attempted to “push his 12-year-old daughter out of a moving vehicle” and also “held his ex-wife and children hostage in Kansas.”
“Chad, you will have to stand at the foot of God, and He will lay all your sins out,” she reportedly told him while attending the hearing via Zoom. “I truly pray that you are paid back for every tear, bruise and broken bone that you caused.”
Reportedly referring to Chad as “a violent man” who “loves to torment others” and would “continue to hurt and victimize people” if given the chance, Jaramillo reportedly said she “begged” Scott not to give his father another chance.
“In a way, I guess this is the only way Scott would be free from Chad’s grasp,” she told the court.
Jaramillo harshly criticized the 20-year sentence, which, with time served, means Chad could potentially be released in just over six years.
“I’m devastated and heartbroken and feel like I’m letting Scott down,” she reportedly said. “I have fought so hard for justice. But at the end of the day, we have to weigh how likely it would be to get a conviction. Scott is seen as the aggressor and Chad supposedly acted in the heat of passion. The justice system isn’t for victims, it’s for the criminals.”
In addition to the 20-year prison sentence, Judge Weathers also fined Chad $10,000.
[image via Forrest County Sheriff]
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