Plea deal changed in statutory rape case

Oct. 27—A 28-year-old Joplin man received a new plea deal this week on his child sexual abuse charges.

Seth C. Watters pleaded guilty Monday in Jasper County Circuit Court to a count of second-degree statutory rape in a plea agreement dismissing a related count of second-degree statutory sodomy and calling for a five-year sentence.

Circuit Judge Gayle Crane accepted the plea deal and assessed the defendant five years with the term to be served at the state's sex offender assessment unit and the court to review the sentence after 120 days for possible placement on probation.

Watters had pleaded guilty to both counts Aug. 22 in a plea agreement calling for concurrent five-year terms, but a motion to set aside that sentence which his public defender filed on Oct. 17 was sustained by the judge and a new plea entered this week.

Watters was charged in November 2021 with offenses three years ago involving a girl between the ages of 14 and 16 years old following an investigation by the Jasper County Sheriff's Department and the Missouri Department of Social Services.

A tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children prompted the investigation after the center received information from Facebook regarding an image of suspected child pornography discovered in a chat session.

The investigation of communications between the suspect and victim led to charges that Watters had sexual contact with the minor in 2019.

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.