'Tinder rapist' pleads guilty

11 July 2019 | Justice

Jona Shitaleni Paulus (33), a Namibian registered as a graduate student at Iowa State University, is serving 90 days in prison after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of sexual assault.

Paulus pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit sexual abuse before the Story County District Court in Iowa on 17 June.

According to the court documents, Paulus will be registered as a sex offender for life and had to pay a US$700 fine. This charge pertained to a woman he allegedly forced to have sex with him in his apartment, holding her down by the wrists.

He had met her on the dating site Tinder.

He was set to appear in court on Tuesday this week but, the plea deal cancelled that appearance.





But Paulus' legal woes have only just begun.

New charges that were brought early in May after police searched his cellphone will be now heard in a federal court, not the Iowa state court.

Both charges - sexual exploitation of a minor and possession of footage of a minor depicting a sexual act - are regarded as felonies, or serious crimes.

A federal court's jurisdiction in the United States covers crimes that contravene laws passed by Congress and matters that contravene the American constitution.

Consequently, the Story County District Court has dismissed the two charges as the matter will now be transferred to a federal court. According to Pate & Johnson, a law firm that specialises in federal cases involving child pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor, Paulus could face 25 years in prison if convicted on both charges.

“Under federal law, child pornography is any 'visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct'. A visual depiction is basically a picture, video or digital image. A minor is anyone under 18 years old.

“A conviction for a federal child pornography offence can carry a substantial amount of prison time. A person who is convicted of knowingly possessing child pornography can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison,” the law firm writes. The charge of sexual exploitation of a minor is defined as “a person who attempts to induce, persuade or entice a minor to engage in a sexual act for the purpose of making a video, picture or other image”.

“The penalties for sexual exploitation under federal law are incredibly severe. The mandatory minimum sentence is 15 years and the maximum is 30 years.”

The sexual exploitation count came after police searched Paulus's phone while investigating the third-degree sexual abuse charge, according to a criminal complaint filed by campus police. Investigators said the phone contained sexual images and a sexual video depicting a girl who repeatedly told him she was 16 years old.

During their conversation Paulus apparently solicited naked pictures and a video of a prohibited sexual act from the girl.

In the conversations that took place between 1 April and 5 April, the minor identified herself as a 16-year-old multiple times during the chats, it was reported. Police interviewed the girl on 30 April and she confirmed that it was her in the pictures and video sent to Paulus.

While the matter will be heard in federal court, it is reported that the Iowa state prosecutor has reserved the right to try the case after the federal prosecution ends.

Some online news sites report that Paulus has been denied entry to the university campus.

The Des Moines Register reports that Michelle K. Wolf, the public defender assigned to Paulus, could not provide any information on whether Paulus plans to remain enrolled at the university. She confirmed that she would not be representing him in federal court.

YANNA SMITH