Gell returns to prison

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 28, 2007

WINTON – Nearly four years after being granted his freedom, James Alan Gell is returning to prison.

Gell, 33 of Lewiston, pled guilty Tuesday in Hertford County Superior Court to sexual charges with a minor female. He made national headlines in February of 2004 after the former death row inmate was acquitted of the 1995 murder of an Aulander man.

This time around, Gell didn’t need a second trial to prove his innocence as he maintained his guilt of having sex on several occasions in 2005 with a then 15-year-old Gates County girl.

Tuesday’s proceedings were moved from Bertie County Superior Court to Hertford County due to scheduling conflicts. There, Gell pled guilty to five counts of indecent liberties with a minor and one count of second degree sexual exploitation of a minor. For those charges, Gell received an active prison term ranging from 61 to 74 months. He will receive credit for time served in the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail where he has been incarcerated since April of last year awaiting the court proceedings.

Additionally, three additional sentences totaling 66 to 78 months were suspended for two counts of indecent liberties and one count of sexual exploitation.

Following his active term, Gell will serve 36 months of probation. He must register as a sex offender and cannot be in the presence of a minor under age 16 without the supervision of an adult.

Judge William Griffin of Martin County, ironically the same judge presiding at Gell’s second murder trial in 2004, handed down the sentences on Tuesday in Winton.

The young girl, now age 17 which Gell admitted to having consensual sex with, was in the Hertford County courtroom on Tuesday. Also in attendance was a 16-month-old toddler, the product of the sexual encounters between Gell and the then underage girl.

According to District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell, who prosecuted the case on behalf of the state, the teen did not want Gell sent to prison.

“She didn’t want me to prosecute Mr. Gell and if I did go forward, she wanted him only to be placed on probation so he could care for and help support their child,” Asbell said.

Asbell said she didn’t agree with the young girl’s wishes.

“I felt an active prison term was appropriate for two reasons,” Asbell noted. “One, he was aware of her age (15) when all of this happened, and, two, he was aware of the charges against the girl’s father, charges that involved the young girl, and I feel Mr. Gell took advantage of her in that situation.”

The girl’s father, James Michael Harris of Eure, was charged by Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb in April of last year with 21 total counts of statutory rape, second degree forcible rape and indecent liberties with at least two of his daughters. On Oct. 30 of this year, Harris, now age 39, pled guilty to attempted statutory rape and second degree rape. He received an active prison sentence of 157 to 198 months.

Gell was also arrested in April of last year and was originally charged by the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office with 32 felony sex offenses: 16 counts of statutory rape, 14 counts of indecent liberties with a child, second degree sexual exploration of a minor and an internet cyber crime where he allegedly displayed pornographic photos on a computer.

According to Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb, Gell had been under investigation for several months prior to his arrest due to his apparent involvement with a 15-year-old girl in his county. Although the young girl said the sex was consensual, Webb explained the charges were lodged due to the age discrepancy in the case.

“North Carolina law says if there are more than six years difference in age between two individuals engaged in a sexual relationship, we must charge the older individual with statutory rape, no matter if the younger individual consented to engaging in sexual intercourse,” Webb said at the time.

Gell’s notoriety stemmed from a 1998 capital murder case in Bertie County where he sentenced to die for the 1995 death of Allen Ray Jenkins of Aulander.

However, in December of 2003, Resident Superior Court Judge Cy Grant threw out Gell’s capital murder conviction and ordered a new trial after an appeals process revealed that prosecutors with the North Carolina State Attorney General’s office, who handled the 1998 trial, did not share critical documents with Gell’s defense team.

The new trial took place in February of 2004 where a Bertie County jury took less than three hours to find Gell not guilty.