Child sex abuse case ends with unusual plea deal

The prosecutor agreed to “set aside” a man’s child rape conviction for guilty pleas to other charges.

Under a complex and unusual plea bargain, the Island County prosecutor agreed to “set aside” a former Langley man’s child rape conviction in exchange for guilty pleas to less-serious charges.

The agreement resolves an Appeals Court order complicated by the death of the former defense attorney. It will likely result in a sentence of 19 years and six months, which is significantly less than the original term.

In 2016, a jury in Island County Superior Court found Jonathan Sage, who once ran a public relations company on South Whidbey, guilty of four counts of rape of a child in the second degree with aggravating factors. He was accused of befriending two boys and sexually assaulting them for years.

The judge handed Sage an indeterminate sentence of 35 years to life in prison.

Sage has consistently denied the allegations. He appealed his convictions to the state Appeals Court and the state Supreme Court, but both courts affirmed his conviction.

Sage then wrote his own personal restraint petition, which was essentially his last shot at appealing in state courts. He claimed that his defense attorney at trial, Cassandra Lopez de Arriaga-Shaw, refused to let him testify in his own defense, as is his right. He submitted a letter from a New Jersey attorney who claimed that he spoke with Sage during the trial and that Sage told him Lopez de Arriaga-Shaw refused to allow him to testify.

The county prosecutor’s office submitted a declaration from Lopez de Arriaga-Shaw, who became a superior court judge in Snohomish County, stating that she advised Sage of his right to testify but recommended against it and that it was his choice not to testify. A private investigator who worked for the defense corroborated Lopez de Arriaga-Shaw’s version of events.

The Appeals Court ruled that an evidentiary hearing should be held in superior court to determine the veracity of Sage’s claim. Prior to the hearing, however, Lopez de Arriaga-Shaw died, making a full evidentiary hearing impossible.

“This was a highly unusual situation, given the unfortunate death of Judge Lopez-Shaw — the one person who could respond to Sage’s allegations,” Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said in an email.

As a result, Banks and Sage’s attorney, Joshua Saunders, worked out a plea agreement to resolve the matter.

Under the terms of the plea deal, Banks agreed to stipulate to the granting of Sage’s personal restraint petition, vacation of the sentence and dismissal of the charges.

In exchange, Sage pleaded guilty by way of an Alford plea to sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor in the first degree.

Both the prosecution and defense will recommend an exceptional sentence of 19 years and six months in prison. Sage agreed that he cannot appeal the plea.

Banks said the prosecution did not concede that the 35-year exceptional sentence was excessive, but he noted the 19-and-a-half-year sentence is still comparable to the statutory sentences for the most serious crimes.

“There will be no more appeals, and no risk of a bad jury verdict,” he said.

Since Sage pleaded guilty to a sex crime, the Department of Corrections must complete a pre-sentence investigation prior to sentencing, which is set for May 22.