WILLIAMSTON, N.C. — A Williamston man will spend at least the next 40 years in prison following a conviction this week of Statutory Rape of a Child.

A Martin County jury convicted James Earl Shepard, Jr., 53, following several days of testimony in Martin County Superior Court. Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Wayland J. Sermons, Jr., sentenced Shepard to a minimum of 480 months and a maximum of 636 months in the North Carolina Division of Adult Correction.

According to District Attorney Seth Edwards, the State presented evidence that Shepard raped a 12-year-old girl in 2015 in Williamston. Shepard was married to the young girl’s aunt. Initially, the victim only disclosed inappropriate touchings by Shepard, who was charged in 2016 with Indecent Liberties involving this young girl and several other minors.

Shepard pled guilty to multiple counts of Indecent Liberties in 2017 and received an active sentence. It was only after Shepard went to prison that the young girl reported to law enforcement that an actual rape had occurred. A forensic interview at the Tedi Bear Child Advocacy Center in Greenville
corroborated this most recent disclosure.

“It is common in child sexual assaults for a child not to disclose all details in the beginning,” said Edwards. “I want to commend first and foremost the young victim, now 18, for having the courage to come forward and then follow through with the prosecution,” he said. In addition, Edwards singled out his prosecutors and staff in his Martin County office, along with the Martin County Sheriff’s office, for teaming up for a successful prosecution in a very difficult case.”