PRINCETON — A former youth league basketball coach in Mercer County was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison Monday on sexual assault charges.
Mercer County Circuit Court Judge William Sadler sentenced James Anthony “Tony” Collins, 36, formerly of Bluefield, to 10 to 25 years on a sexual assault second degree charge and 10 to 20 years on a sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian or person in a position of trust to a child charge. The sentences for both charges will run concurrently.
The victim in the case was 14 years old at the time.
Sadler called the crime “one of the more serious offenses the court has to deal with.”
“These are horrible cases,” he said, pointing out the lasting impact it has on a child and the child’’s family.
Collins had entered a “best interest” plea in November 2018, basically saying it may be in his best interest to accept a plea and let a judge decide rather than go before a jury.
Sadler said such a plea “puts the court in a box,” since the defendant does not admit what happened.
But it was violent act against a child, he added.
“It was a horrible offense involving a child,” he said, and the court has to make a decision based on guilt “regardless of whether he admits participation.”
Sadler said the maximum punishment “is called for.”
“Time and again we have these cases,” he said. “These are the type of cases where society demands harsh punishment, and rightfully so.”
Sadler again reiterated the long-term effects on the victim and the victim’s family.
“Innocence was taken,” he said, and for a child that can never be restored.
The sentences will run consecutively, which means Collins will serve at least 20 years.
Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said Collins will also be a registered sex offender for life and when he is released from prison he will have 10 years of supervised probation.
Collins’ attorney, Josh Austin, asked for an other sex offender evaluation because “we have a lot of issues” with the first evaluation related to what information the evaluator had at the time regarding Collins’ statements.
“It was not an accurate representation,” Austin said of the narrative from the police officer given to the evaluator that indicated sexual intercourse, which Collins had not admitted to.
But Sitler said he didn’t think another evaluation was needed.
Sadler agreed and denied the request.
The abuse occurred in April 2019, when the victim rode with Collins to give her and other juveniles visiting a youth at his residence a ride home, according to a criminal complaint by Detective-Sgt. K.L. Adams, with the Bluefield Police Department.
After dropping off the other teens, the victim said Collins, who was indicted in June 2019, pulled into a parking lot and forced her to have sex with him, according to the complaint filed by Adams.
The victim also told investigators she was assaulted by Collins on two prior occasions, according to Adams’ complaint.
Collins initially denied having intercourse with the juvenile upon questioning by Adams.
However, after being confronted with knowledge of surveillance video of the parking lot where the alleged abuse took place, the defendant’s story changed, according to Adams.
“Collins then again changed his story and admitted that he had indeed had sexual intercourse with (the victim) while in the parking lot,” Adams stated in the criminal complaint.
The victim told investigators that Collins also had sex with her in December of 2018, and attempted to have sex with her in January 2019 but could not “because there were other people around.”
Adams said Collins previously coached a girls youth league basketball team in Princeton.