Former sheriff asks judge for leniency in Hoyle case

Brad Hicks • May 6, 2014 at 8:51 AM

Former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris said that during his days as a law enforcement officer, he witnessed a number of people sent to prison for crimes against children.

Now, Harris, who is seeking the post of 3rd District Republican state executive committeeman in today’s Republican primary, has joined the family of Rickie Lee Hoyle Jr. — the Johnson City man arrested last year for attempting to solicit sex from a male juvenile — in asking a federal judge to grant leniency to Hoyle ahead of his Wednesday sentencing in U.S. District Court in Greeneville.

In his letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronnie Greer dated April 22, Harris said he has known Hoyle “his entire life” and describes Hoyle as someone who wants to help people, especially those in need. Harris’ letter, as well as letters written by Hoyle’s mother, uncle, stepmother, daughter and grandmother, were filed in U.S. District Court on April 28.

“I am not familiar with the details of the charges against him with the exception of what limited information I have heard or seen in the news,” Harris’ letter said. “I have to say that it is hard to believe that he did commit this or any type of crime. I realize you have a very hard job but I would ask for you to consider leanesay (sic) on him. I have three children and knowing him as I do I would feel comfortable with him being around my children.”

Harris said Monday that he was asked by Hoyle’s family to write the letter on his behalf.

“I know his family well, and he comes from a fine family,” Harris said. “There’s not a better Christian woman than his grandmother. She’s just a fine person.”

In January, Hoyle agreed to plead guilty to one count of using a facility or means of interstate commerce to knowingly persuade, induce, entice or coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity.

Per this plea agreement, Hoyle faces a minimum mandatory prison term of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment. He must also register as an offender under the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. A federal grand jury indicted Hoyle in June.

Hoyle was arrested May 24 following a joint investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Erwin Police Department. Court documents filed after his arrest said Hoyle began contacting the victim in 2012 via Facebook, which led to a personal meeting in January in which Hoyle “inappropriately touched” the victim.

In May 2013, Hoyle offered the victim $200 to help with car repairs and, in exchange, Hoyle wanted to perform oral sex on the victim, court documents said. Documents state that Hoyle did not provide the $200 to the victim.

The Erwin Police Department was contacted after this incident, and the victim received a text message from Hoyle on May 23 in which Hoyle expressed interest in sexual activity with the boy, authorities said. Erwin police contacted the TBI for its assistance. On May 24, Hoyle was arrested after driving from his Johnson City home to meet the juvenile at the Unicoi Walmart, officials said.

Hoyle is scheduled for sentencing at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Greeneville.

“I don’t have any knowledge of all the facts but what I’ve read, and he’s pled guilty,” Harris said. “I’m not saying that he’s not guilty, and I’m not saying that he doesn’t deserve punishment.”

In his letter, Harris wrote that if house arrest is “on the table” following Hoyle’s jail time, he is sure Hoyle will cooperate with the necessary regulations and Hoyle’s family will make sure of this. Harris said Tuesday that Hoyle’s criminal charges were “out of character” from what he knows of Hoyle.

“I’m in no way saying what he did was right,” Harris said. “It’s wrong and he deserves to be punished.”

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