WALLA WALLA -- A local man faces a sentence of at least 20 years after pleading guilty Tuesday to five felony sex crimes that occurred last summer.
Carl G. Bell Jr., 32, entered guilty pleas in Superior Court to one count of first-degree rape of a child, two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of first-degree possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct (child pornography).
In exchange, entities prosecuting the case are recommending a 240-month sentence, the low end of the standard range for Bell's crimes considering his criminal history. But Judge Donald W. Schacht could order him to serve up to 318 months -- 26 1/2 years -- under state law.
Sentencing will be in a few weeks after a presentence investigation is completed.
Bell initially was charged with 15 crimes -- three counts of first-degree rape of a child, two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and 10 counts of first-degree possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
But Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden recently "upped the ante," he said in an interview, by adding 16 counts of sexual exploitation involving similar crimes Bell allegedly committed. Golden informed Bell through his attorney Richard Wernette that unless Bell accepted a plea offer, Golden would seek an exceptionally long sentence of at least 60 years if Bell were convicted at a trial set for next month.
Bell decided to accept Golden's offer to plead guilty to five of the charges, with the 20-year sentencing recommendation. The other charges will be dismissed.
Walla Walla police said Bell had sexual intercourse with a preteen girl twice in June and once in August of last year. He took a digital picture of one of the rapes that occurred in June, according to officials.
Police said that also last summer, Bell started taking posed, nude pictures of the girl on multiple occasions in Walla Walla, ostensibly to help her submit them to a modeling agency. The agency, however, existed only through an email account Bell created to receive the pictures.
In addition, Bell persuaded the girl to take seven pictures of a different girl in naked poses at a park in Waitsburg in late August, according to police. He also was suspected of trying to solicit a third girl to send nude pictures to the email address.
Officials reportedly obtained the digital images of the girls by serving a search warrant Aug. 31. Bell's cell phone, laptop computer and other electronic storage devices were seized for further investigation.
He was arrested and booked into the County Jail. He had been living in Waitsburg, officials said.