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10/02/2012 04:54 PM
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[link to www.columbiatribune.com]

A Columbia man already sentenced to 20 years in prison on child molestation and child endangerment charges says he gave up fighting unrelated charges and pleaded guilty yesterday after frustration over media reports and perceived juror discrimination.

Robert Prince III, 22, yesterday was ordered to serve five years in prison for second-degree statutory rape and four years for attempted tampering with a victim or witness. He also was ordered to serve five years for possession of child pornography and four years for attempted tampering with a victim or witness in an unrelated case. A third unrelated charge of second-degree statutory rape was dismissed.

All four sentences were ordered to be served concurrently with each other and with the 20-year sentence issued in August. In the earlier case, a jury convicted Prince of first-degree child molestation and first-degree child endangerment.

When Prince was arrested on suspicion of child molestation in July 2011, police also found videos on his cellphone containing child porn. Attorney Stephen Wyse said Prince claims he didn't know the teens who asked him to record them having sex were not of legal age.

Boone County First Assistant Prosecutor Tracy Gonzalez said if the case had gone to trial, evidence would have shown Prince knowingly possessed child pornography.

After Prince's initial arrest and the discovery of the videos, other alleged victims came forward, resulting in additional charges including statutory rape.

Wyse said Prince gave up fighting the charges after "his will was broken" over what he claims was discrimination by a Boone County jury plus the denial of a change of venue he requested.

Wyse said that in hindsight, he wishes he had asked Prince to testify in his own defense at trial, but he didn't expect the jury would convict based on the evidence. Instead, he believes discrimination played a role. "I acquitted a white man once facing the same amount of evidence, but this was a black man in dreadlocks," Wyse said.

Wyse has taken issue with reports on the case since July 2011, when Columbia police issued a news release that encouraged additional potential victims to contact detectives — something police don't frequently do via media outlets.

As a result of reports he and Prince believed would bias potential Boone County jurors, Wyse last week requested a change of venue for the case involving pornography charges. Circuit Judge Jodie Asel denied the request, and Wyse said that prompted his client to plead guilty.

"There is a portrayal in the media of young black men as dangerous. … Everything is sensationalized," Wyse said.