A Virginia man who has fathered children with several women has agreed to get a vasectomy to knock up to five years off his prison term in a child endangerment case that has evoked the country's dark history of forced sterilization.
None of the charges against Jessie Lee Herald, 27, involved a sexual offense. Shenandoah County assistant prosecutor Ilona White said her chief motive in making the extraordinarily unusual offer was keeping Herald from fathering more than the seven children he has by at least six women.
"He needs to be able to support the children he already has when he gets out," she said, adding that Herald and the state both benefit from the deal, first reported by the Northern Virginia Daily.
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"This takes on the appearance of social engineering," said Steve Benjamin of Richmond, past president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who said he has never heard of a case like Herald's.
Herald's attorney, Charles Ramsey, and White, the prosecutor, disputed any suggestion that the plea deal for Herald, who is white, has similarities to eugenics.
"I would never agree with that line of thinking. That was nowhere in my thought process," White said.
Said Ramsey, "I understand the comparison, but I don't think it's fair. That's kind of exaggerating it."
Herald, of Edinburg, was sentenced this month to one year and eight months in prison for child endangerment, hit and run , and driving on a suspended license in a crash in which authorities said his 3-year-old son was bloodied but not seriously hurt.
The agreement requires Herald to undergo the operation within a year of being released from prison and prohibits him from having the vasectomy reversed while he is on probation.
Herald will have to pay for the vasectomy, which can cost from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000. Ramsey said the reason for giving his client a year to get the surgery was to give him time to come up with the money.
"It was not a no-brainer for him," Ramsey said. "It was a difficult decision. I had some reservations as well, but I don't want to get too much into my opinion of it because it's not my decision."