Judge sets aside plea deal, sentences Hockenbury to more time

James Hockenbury

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Handcuffs on: Longtime childcare worker James Hockenbury of Guilderland will spend 15 years in state prison followed by 20 years of supervised release for abusing a child he was babysitting. ​

ALBANY — As James Hockenbury of Guilderland was being sentenced in Albany County Court Wednesday morning, two mothers, each with a young son, told the judge of the pain Hockenbury had inflicted upon their families. Hockenbury had pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sex act with a child.

After the initial charges were brought in April 2016 by the family of a 3-year-old boy who had been in Hockenbury’s care at the time, a second child came forward.

Hockenbury, 49, who spent three decades working with children at local daycare centers and Guilderland elementary schools and offering private babysitting, had agreed to a plea deal that would have sent him to state prison for 10 years. Judge Peter A. Lynch announced in court Wednesday that he was setting aside the plea deal and that he planned to sentence Hockenbury to 15 years instead of 10.

Lynch said that the plea deal had been “subject to” the presentencing report — generally, this is a report compiled by the Probation Department and intended to give judges insight into a defendant’s background and frame of mind. After reading that report and reviewing all the other materials, Lynch said, he had decided to set the deal aside.

Lynch gave Hockenbury a chance to leave the courtroom and talk with his lawyer, Mark J. Sacco of Albany. The judge said Hockenbury had three options: accept the longer sentence, be heard further, or withdraw the plea and face trial.

When the two returned to the courtroom, Sacco said that Hockenbury had been speaking with his siblings, who had accompanied him to the proceeding, and that he did not know if Hockenbury had yet reached a decision. Sacco asked his client if he had decided, and Hockenbury replied, “Fifteen years.”

 

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
With his attorney, Mark J. Sacco beside him, James Hockenbury listens to Judge Peter A. Lynch of Albany County Court explain why he will not uphold the 10-year plea agreement worked out by the attorneys.

 

Hockenbury will also have to register as a sex offender and serve 20 years on probation after his release.

The Enterprise is not using the names of the mothers to protect the identities of their children, sex-crime victims.

The initial charges stemmed from an incident on a Saturday at the Westmere Elementary School playground when Hockenbury was babysitting a 3-year-old boy. At a May 2017 hearing, where Sacco sought to suppress a signed confession in which Hockenbury stated the Westmere incident was the only time he acted on his “sexual interest for children,” it emerged that a second child had come forward in June 2016 to report multiple incidents of abuse that had occurred months earlier.

At the time, Cecilia Walsh, spokeswoman for the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, told The Enterprise, “The guilty plea entered by Hockenbury fully satisfies any uncharged acts in relation to the second victim.”

Mothers’ lament

The mother of the first victim said that Hockenbury’s abuse of her son has forever altered her view of humanity.

The mother of the second victim spoke of the “depravity in the defendant’s heart” and called him “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” She said she used to consider herself a good mother but now “completely doubts” her own parental instincts.

Both mothers spoke of overwhelming guilt at having failed to protect their young sons from their caretaker. Both spoke of Hockenbury as a manipulative, calculating predator who set about to “groom” not only their sons, but also them: friending them on Facebook; in one case, bringing over large stuffed animals for the child at holidays.

The mother of the first child said Hockenbury had repeatedly reminded the family that they had earned a free babysitting session because of the number of times they had hired him before, while the mother of the second child said that Hockenbury often offered to babysit for free.  

They both essentially said that the sentence for them is much longer than the 10 years Hockenbury faced. The mother of the first child said she will spend the rest of her days protecting her son and ensuring he is “truly safe.” She described an incident just last week, in which her son had run ahead of her and disappeared into his school and out of her sight for just a matter of seconds, causing her to panic.

The mother of the second child said, “My husband and I will have to remember what the defendant did to our son our whole lives.”

She spoke of the gut-wrenching feeling she had, watching her son first whisper and then slowly begin to tell a counselor about the things Hockenbury had done. Her son, she said, felt bad about breaking his promise to keep the abuse a secret and felt guilty that “Mr. Jim was in trouble.”

She and her husband had been told by a counselor, she said, that they would need to be vigilant for the rest of their lives, since offenders have an uncanny ability to spot — and to retarget — children who have been abused.

Each mother spoke about the effect on her child. The mother of the first child spoke of counseling, medication, and behavioral issues and said that she and her husband would never know the extent to which the future that “should have been” was altered by the mistrust and uncertainty that Hockenbury introduced into the family’s life.

The day her son was born, she said, she had promised him she would always nurture and protect him. Now she was “crippled by guilt that I didn’t fulfill my promise.”

The mother of the second child thanked the court for the opportunity to speak, saying that it gave her son’s voice a chance to be heard despite how young he was at the time and even though Hockenbury had decided “not to admit to his acts.”

She added that she hoped that Hockenbury’s sentencing and post-release supervision could at least help to “save one little boy from the misfortune of encountering the defendant.” She said she also hoped that his sentence would help her to regain her ability to trust “while still protecting my son.”

She does not forgive. “I wish I could stand up here and say through religion or strength of spirit I have forgiven the defendant,” she said, “but I am not that person. Even God requires repentance before forgiveness can be granted, and the defendant has never repented.”

He picks victims “too young to testify against him,” she said, “carefully choosing his tiny victims before destroying their lives and the lives of their families.”

Asked by the judge if he had anything to say, Hockenbury mumbled that he “would like to apologize for the incident that happened a year ago.”

 

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