September 7, 2019 10:04:18 PM
Isabelle Altman - [email protected]
A former business owner pleaded guilty to two counts of secretly photographing for lewd purposes after a teenage relative told a jury how he set up a camera in a residential bathroom and filmed her while she was showering.
On Friday, 16th District Circuit Judge Lee Coleman sentenced Richard Dobbins to 15 years total, with five years suspended, in Mississippi Department of Corrections. Dobbins must also register as a sex offender.
Dobbins pleaded Thursday, a day into his trial and after the teenager -- the first of two victims -- testified before a jury. The jury also saw a video from the camera Dobbins admitted to setting up in his New Hope home in April 2017.
"The evidence was so strong that not only did we convince the jurors, we convinced him," District Attorney Scott Colom said after Dobbins' sentencing Friday.
The sentiment was echoed by Dobbins' attorney, Rod Ray of Columbus.
"I think the videos were so powerful that he pretty much had to plea," Ray said.
Dobbins owned Backyard Burger on Highway 45 North "years ago," but had sold the business before his arrest in June 2017, Ray said. At the time of his arrest, he owned a business based in Florida.
On Friday, the two victims testified at the sentencing hearing. The child victim was 13 and living at Dobbins' home at the time of the incident.
"I still can't believe that the man I was living with ... ever since I was little could do something like that," she said, calling the experience "traumatizing."
She asked Coleman to sentence Dobbins to the maximum 10 years he could receive for filming her.
However, the second victim, an adult female relative of Dobbins, said she did not want Dobbins to go to prison.
"After all this has been said and done, after all the time that has passed, I don't want to see the man sit behind bars," she said.
Testimony at sentencing hearing
During Friday's hearing, the victim's father also testified, saying he did not want another family to go through what his daughter went through and calling Dobbins a "monster in the shadows."
"What would have happened (if Dobbins hadn't been arrested)?" the victim's father said. "Would it have gotten worse? No one can answer these questions, but these are questions my family has to think about."
But Dobbins' wife, Tina Dobbins, asked Coleman for leniency, explaining that Dobbins was a good man who helped people and took care of his family.
She said she believes Dobbins set the camera hoping to capture film of the adult relative, not the child.
Colom asked her how she could still believe that, pointing out one of the videos shows Dobbins having a conversation with the child in the bathroom and then immediately moving objects out of the way of the camera after the child left, before capturing the child in the shower. He also pointed out there were no videos of a male child who was also living in the house at the time, and asked if Dobbins had accidentally filmed one person, why would he not have accidentally filmed another child who routinely used that bathroom.
"I do know he pled to the charges," Tina Dobbins said. "I just don't think he did it intentionally to get (the child)."
Business associates of Dobbins, including the attorney who handled his business dealings, Will Cooper, and another associate Derrick Lowrey, also testified as character witnesses on behalf of Dobbins. Both have known Dobbins about 15 years, since he moved to Columbus, and both said they were shocked when Dobbins was arrested. They said they felt his business exploits should be taken into account when the judge considered sentencing.
"Richard has been a successful businessman in Columbus and has been, from a business standpoint, ... good for the community," Cooper said. "It's just one of those deals where locking him up for 10 years seems harsh to me.
"Apparently he made a huge mistake and he should pay for that mistake," he added.
Lowrey admitted he hadn't seen Dobbins in three or four years, but called him "highly intellectual" and "driven."
"I do know he is a producer in society," he said. "At the end of the day, we're either a consumer or producer. Richard was a producer.
"There's time," he added, saying the family could find healing through faith in God. "There's healing and there's forgiveness."