ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County man who went missing with his 9-year-old niece by marriage last May, resulting in a massive week-long search, was sentenced to 25 years years for kidnapping Monday, but the rape of a child charge was reduced to sexual battery.
A list of crimes that Gary Lewis Simpson, 58, reportedly confessed to in his statement to police were read aloud in Hawkins County Criminal Court on Monday afternoon.
Attorney General Dan Armstrong told the Times-News after the plea hearing that the Class A felony child rape count was reduced to aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony, to spare the victim, 9-year-old Carlie Trent, from having to testify in court.
In court Monday, Simpson offered an Alford plea to the original charge of especially aggravated kidnapping, for which he received a 25-year sentence that must be served at 100 percent. An Alford plea is tantamount to a guilty plea but is not an admission of guilt.
He also offered an Alford plea to the reduced aggravated sexual battery charge in exchange for an eight-year sentence to be served concurrently for an effective sentence of 25 years.
A charge of aggravated sexual battery pertaining to events that occurred the month prior to the kidnapping was dismissed. That, too, would have required the child to testify, Armstrong noted.
Armstrong said the 25-year sentence on the kidnapping charge was the same amount of time Simpson would have received concurrently on the child rape charge, so by offering the plea agreement they didn’t reduce Simpson’s overall sentence.
"We felt comfortable making that offer just to keep Carlie from having to testify," Armstrong added.
Simpson kidnapped his 9-year-old niece by marriage on May 4, triggering a nationwide Amber alert.
He picked her up at school that afternoon under the false pretense that her father had been injured at work.
Simpson and his wife had custody of the girl in the recent past while her father was in jail, and Simpson was on her approved pickup list at the school.
The response to the kidnapping was national, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Marshals Office set up command stations in Rogersville to assist local authorities in the search.
Simpson and Carlie were located by a civilian search party on May 12 in a rural area of Hawkins County off Gravely Valley Road, where they had been camping in Simpson's van.
Upon searching the van, police reportedly found a checklist of sexual deeds that Simpson planned to perform on his victim.
According to the report read aloud in court Monday by Armstrong, Simpson admitted to the TBI that he had completed a couple of items on that checklist.
"When Gary Simpson's van was searched, a paper was discovered that could best be described as a to-do list of sexual acts," Armstrong told the court. "At the bottom of the list was a threat that if anyone was told what they were doing, they would both die along with several people who were close to the child."
Simpson previously claimed that his plan was to take the child with him to live at a friend’s house in Roanoke, Va., where he would raise her with some friends who live there.
Although the Tennessee Department of Corrections generally offers 15 percent off for “good behavior,” Armstrong said Simpson likely will have to serve 100 percent of his sentence due to the nature of his crimes.
"He could get about 3.5 years credit, but generally speaking, he's probably going to serve 25 years," Armstrong said. "Just the nature of the charge."
That means Simpson probably won’t be out of prison until he is 82 years old.
When asked by Judge John Dugger if he wanted to make a statement during his plea, Simpson replied, "No."
Carlie Trent's father and mother attended the guilty plea, along with agents with the TBI, Rogersville police, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and the attorney general investigator.
Simpson was represented by Kingsport attorney Kyle Vaughn.
Related story links:
Simpson charged with rape of a child in Hawkins kidnapping
'She is 10-4': Carlie rescued, Simpson arrested in remote area near Clinch Mountain
‘Just evil’: Father expresses fears for missing 9-year-old Hawkins girl taken frm school
TBI, U.S. Marshals move command posts to Rogersville as search for Carlie intensifies