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County man says guilty to molesting children

Warren County Deputy Sheriffs J.J. Kight, left, and Mose Selmon escort James Jernigan, center, from the county jail to the courthouse Wednesday. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[06/07/01] A Warren County man pleaded guilty Wednesday to sexually abusing three children who had been left in his care.

Circuit Court Judge Frank Vollor accepted the plea from 18-year-old James Jernigan III, but did not set a date for sentencing. The case had been set to go to trial Wednesday.

Jernigan, who had no comment in court, faces a sentence of anything less than life in prison on the three counts of sexual battery.

The mother of Jernigan’s 5-year-old victim said she was glad the case was not going to trial.

“I am glad she will not have to go through testifying and all that,” she said.

Jernigan, 309 Newman Road, was arrested Dec. 18, 1999, after reports that he was sexually abusing four children ages 5 to 8 he had been baby-sitting.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Bonner said one charge of sexual battery was dropped because there was not enough evidence.

Bonner said the success of the case was because of Warren County Sheriff’s Department Detective Randy Lewis, lead investigator on the case.

“Detective Lewis put a lot of hard work into this and it wouldn’t have happened without him,” Bonner said.

On May 31, Vollor ruled that three confessions Jernigan gave authorities on the day of his arrest could be used against him at trial.

Vicksburg attorney Lee Thames, who represents Jernigan, said his client, who was 17 at the time of his arrest, was following the advice of his father when he agreed to give the statements.

Lewis testified the day of the hearing that he read Jernigan his rights five times, four of which were captured on audio and videotape.

The mother of the 5-year-old said her child is still in therapy to deal with what happened to her. “This has been really rough on her and the rest of the family,” she said. “I don’t know if she will ever really get over it.”

Jernigan remains in the Warren County Jail pending sentencing.