A Snohomish man arrested at an Elma park bathroom when he was attempting to meet an 11-year-old boy after a sting operation involving Facebook has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Joel R. Alexander, 35, stared downward without expression as the mother of his intended victim asked the court to send him to prison for the rest of his life. Alexander was convicted of first-degree attempted rape of a child Oct. 24 after trying to meet what he thought was an 11-year-old boy for sex in an Elma park bathroom.
He had actually been corresponding on Facebook with a Washington State Patrol detective and was arrested at the park. Alexander was already a Level 2 sex offender after a 2001 conviction for second-degree rape of a child. Because this is Alexander’s second conviction of a Class A sex crime, Washington State’s “two strikes” law for such offenses mandates he receive a life sentence.
In Alexander’s 2001 conviction, he was granted a Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative, but failed to complete his treatment. According to court documents from Snohomish County, he admitted to 17 additional victims from the one in that case, but was not prosecuted for those.
The boy’s mother praised the work of law enforcement, prosecutor Katie Svoboda and most of all the courage of her young son in deciding to testify against Alexander during his trial.
She said after the trial that her son wants to be a police officer and felt good about his choice to do the right thing.
“We wholeheartedly believe God himself put this monster in our path so we could stop his reign of terror,” she said at the sentencing Monday in Grays Harbor Superior Court.
“I refuse to downplay the effects this has had on my family,” she added. “This has left my entire family afraid and untrusting of others. I no longer feel safe letting my children go for a bike ride with friends. There is no Internet in my home.”
Her family has also had to deal with unwanted attention from the media. She said after the case was filed, television reporters interviewed her two teenage sons while she was at work. Prior to that, all her youngest son had known was “Joel Alexander was a bad man who tried to communicate with him in a bad way and the police were taking care of it.” She struggled to hold back tears as she recounted the tearful phone call from her son after that incident.
The boy’s mother discovered Facebook messages from Alexander to her son, asking questions about his sexual preferences, experience and development. She immediately called police.
Svoboda gave Elma Police Officer Steve Beck credit for his persistence, following up on the case and ensuring it reached the Missing and Exploited Children’s Task Force.
“With a small agency, it would be understandable if Officer Beck just told her to shut off the Internet, cut off the communication,” she said.
Washington State Patrol detective Michael Braerty took over the boy’s Facebook and email accounts and continued to communicate with Alexander. His testimony included a lengthy chat log of his roughly month-long communication with Alexander. The chats and emails contained dozens of sexually explicit photographs and a video sent by Alexander. Several of the images showed his face and torso. The images had embedded data showing they came from a phone that was later shown to be the same model as Alexander’s.
During the online conversations after Braerty took over, Alexander instructed the boy in various sex acts and encouraged him to try them. He also repeatedly instructed the boy to delete the conversations and asked for his login information so he could help the boy delete the logs.
In April, Alexander made plans with the boy to meet for sex in a park bathroom in Elma. Alexander drove down the day before, checked out the bathroom and stayed overnight. He was followed from his mother’s house in Snohomish by police, including aerial surveillance. Braerty said Alexander went directly to the bathroom where he had arranged to meet the boy the following day, checking the door and surveying the area.
“The sentencing today is the culmination of a lot of work from law enforcement,” Svoboda said. “Detective Braerty was able to do an amazing, complete investigation.”
The boy’s mother thanked jurors “for seeing Joel Alexander for the animal he is,”and asked Judge Mark McCauley for a life sentence.
“This is the only opportunity we have to ensure he will never steal another child’s innocence,” she said.
“He has done nothing but demonstrate he has learned nothing from his past incarceration or his past treatment. The only thing that makes our community safe is imposing life without the possibility of release,” Svoboda said.
Alexander’s attorneys, David Mistachkin and Orlando Tadique, said Alexander planned to appeal his conviction in this case.
The boy’s mother gave an audible sigh of relief when McCauley announced Alexander’s life sentence. Afterward, she said she was “relieved, ecstatic” over the sentence.
McCauley explained he found Alexander’s previous conviction and his Grays Harbor County conviction counted as strikes under the law, “which leaves me with no discretion. He is sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.”
In Alexander’s previous conviction, McCauley said, “he admitted at that time that there was not only the victim he was being sentenced for, he admitted to 17 previous victims that he was not prosecuted for. So he certainly deserves the sentence.”