In and out of trouble since the age of 12, Jerome Ryan Henderson now is likely to remain behind bars until he's well past middle age after being sentenced Tuesday to 32 years, 8 months in prison for trying to convince a Bakersfield teen to become a prostitute.
In court, Henderson expressed remorse, telling Kern County Superior Court Judge John W. Lua that he could have made better choices in his life.
"I had opportunities to do better, I just kept falling off, falling off," Henderson said.
Lua wasn't persuaded. He imposed the upper term sentence, calling Henderson's behavior "appalling." He said he couldn't tell if Henderson was sorry for his actions or just sorry he got caught.
Lua noted that Henderson had numerous prior offenses, including some form of child molestation at the age of 12. Henderson has a prior strike for first-degree burglary, and has repeatedly violated his probation and parole terms.
"Your criminal history is pathetic," Lua told Henderson.
Henderson, 23, was found guilty of human trafficking on Aug. 26. His is the first human trafficking case in Kern County since state voters approved Proposition 35, increasing penalties for human trafficking crimes.
He must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, or more than 27 years.
Before sentencing, defense attorney Clayton Campbell argued his client should be sentenced to a lower term of 10 to 16 years. He said Henderson was unsuccessful in his attempt to lure the 13-year-old into prostitution, and cited cases of human trafficking far more egregious than what Henderson did, including beatings and brandings.
Campbell said if Henderson's case didn't qualify for a lower term given the relatively minor nature of his offense compared to other examples of human trafficking, under what circumstances would anyone qualify for a lower term?
Prosecutor Dianna Carter agreed that Henderson failed in his attempt to bring the teen into a life of prostitution, but not for lack of trying. She said Henderson repeatedly tried to get the teen to go to Sacramento with him. He told her they'd have fun partying, and she could make a lot of money.
Carter also urged the court to consider Henderson's lengthy criminal record.
"This defendant has not done anything but commit crimes and violate probation since he was 12 years old," Carter said.
Bakersfield police have said that the girl contacted them in February reporting that Henderson forced her to engage in sex acts with him at a hotel and tried to pick her up after school to take her to Sacramento. She refused and ran from him.
Officers identified two other victims of human trafficking by Henderson. He was located in Sacramento and taken into custody on an arrest warrant issued by the Kern County District Attorney's office.
Carter said afterward it was unnerving to think what would have happened to the 13-year-old if Henderson had been successful in convincing her to become a prostitute.
The prosecutor said research has shown many prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, and the public has only recently become aware of just how widespread the problem is.
She can't tell if Henderson is truly remorseful. In the end, she said, it doesn't really matter.
"Remorse is an interesting thing," Carter said. "It's great, but it doesn't change the fact that punishment needs to be meted out."