A 33-year-old man was sentenced Thursday to 16 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting a suicidal 16-year-old girl he attempted to kill in a park in Orange.
The two initially drove to a freeway overpass in either Pasadena or Pomona with the idea she would jump, but the girl had trouble getting onto the overpass, the prosecutor said.
Jonathan Lee Gregg, who turns 33 on Friday, was convicted Sept. 27 of attempted murder and assault of a minor with the intent to commit a sex offense, both felonies. He was given credit for serving 302 days in jail.
Jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon and also found true a sentencing enhancement for attempted premeditated murder, but rejected sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury on the victim.
Gregg was convicted of attacking the girl on Jan. 24 at El Modena Park. She was found semi-conscious and unclothed at the park and was rushed to Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
Authorities said she met Gregg through the Whisper app, which allows for anonymous messaging, and that she had requested assistance in taking her own life.
Prosecutors asked for the maximum sentence of 16 years to life, which was handed down by Orange County Superior Court Judge Andre Manssourian, who also ordered the defendant to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Gregg was armed with a gun when he “convinced the victim to accelerate her suicide plans and discussed choking or drowning her at a park with a man-made lake the evening before,” Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Boyd wrote in court papers. The victim was “struggling with mental illness and suicidal ideation. She is the textbook definition of a vulnerable victim.”
Gregg’s “callous and brutal sexual attack and his lack of remorse” supported the maximum sentence, Boyd said.
Gregg “tried to take the life of a 16-year-old girl. In doing so, he tried to rape her so that the last memory she had on this earth was this horrible act,” Boyd said. “It would be fitting if the defendant spends the rest of his life paying for what he did in order to keep society safe from future attacks.”
As the victim and Gregg exchanged messages discussing how to end her life, Gregg said first he needed to know what she looked like, Boyd said in his closing argument of the trial. Gregg told the girl he would help if he found her attractive.
The night before the two met in person, cell phone records show he stood outside her home.
Gregg testified that he engaged in such conversations online to win the trust of suicidal people and claimed that he had saved the lives of eight people, but the prosecutor scoffed at that assertion, saying Gregg “accelerated” the teen’s suicide timeline from a week to right away. Otherwise, Gregg told the girl, “you’ll lose your resolve,” according to Boyd.
The teen said she needed a “100% way to die,” Boyd said.
According to the prosecutor, after the pair drove to a freeway overpass in either Pasadena or Pomona with the idea she would jump, Gregg testified that he “heroically” prevented her from jumping.
Then, the two drove to the park because it had a lake where she could be drowned, Boyd said.
While walking to a baseball diamond, Gregg suddenly grabbed her from behind and began strangling her, Boyd told jurors. Then he “bashes her head several times” on the ground or against a wall.
The victim said she recalled him groping her left breast and “spreading her legs” as he attempted to rape her, but she “summons all of her strength and kicked him off,” Boyd said.
Gregg choked her some more and left her there. “He thought she was dead when he left,” Boyd said.
When she was found an hour or so later, she was still “slipping in and out of consciousness,” Boyd said.
“Her fear wasn’t dying,” Boyd said. “She wanted to commit suicide. Her fear was being raped.”
The next day, when she was able to finally consent to a sex assault exam, authorities found Gregg’s sperm on her. Gregg testified that he had masturbated in a tissue and left it on the seat of his car, and the teen must have sat on it.
But, the prosecutor argued, “If he had not intended to commit rape … why are her clothes removed? Why is he curious to know what she looks like the night before?”
A doctor who examined the girl said the petechial hemorrhage in her eyes was the worst she’d seen in her 23 years of medical practice.
Gregg’s attorney, Jacob DeGrave of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, argued that his client often engaged in “dark” role-playing online.
“This case has become a tangled web of misleading allegations,” DeGrave argued.
The victim had suffered with depression and suicidal ideation going back to junior high school, DeGrave told jurors. “She began by cutting her ankles and wrists.”
DeGrave claimed she “sought out help online from multiple people” to commit suicide after breaking up with her boyfriend, and that she gave conflicting accounts to police and again during her testimony.
According to the defense attorney, the victim initially told police she’d been “scammed” and that Gregg had taken her money, and DeGrave argued, “She didn’t say “He tried to rape me.”‘
Gregg testified that he was trying to gain the girl’s trust to help her, and denied hurting her. If he intended to kill her, DeGrave argued, he wouldn’t have taken her to a public place like a park.