COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A repeat sex offender entered a guilty plea and received 25 years without parole in connection with the sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl over two years ago, according to the Eleventh Circuit Solicitor's Office.
Jerry Dean Heard's trial was expected to begin this week in Edgefield County, officials said, but Heard had a change of heart during jury selection, decided to enter a plea, and admitted to the crime.
According to investigators, Heard, 65, sexually assaulted the young girl, who is 8 years old now, while a 9-year-old witness was able to record audio of the assault using a tablet. Family members heard the recording and identified the voice in it as belonging to Heard. That audio recording was used to arrest Heard, who was a family acquaintance of both girls.
Presiding Judge Scott Sprouse reviewed the audio file and called it "disturbing."
Investigators said Heard had been previously convicted for a sexual assault case in Alabama in 1990, but the sentence was before the advent of the public sex offender registry, allowing Heard to slip through the cracks.
"Our office continues to focus on these perpetrators of crimes against children," Solicitor Rick Hubbard said in a statement. "We will maintain our efforts to bring them to justice and keep our communities safe."
Heard was immediately transported to the state Department of Corrections to begin his sentence.