CHARLESTON -- A man called a "serial child molester" faces life in prison after a Coles County jury convicted him of molesting three boys.
Jeffrey M. Jones abused one boy for years and then turned to others when the boy "put an end to it," according to a prosecutor of the case.
Jones, 56, was accused of various sex acts with the boys while he lived in Mattoon between October 2014 and the summer of last year.
His address at the time of his arrest was an apartment at 1114 Edgar Ave., Mattoon, but he's been jailed since his arrest in September 2016.
A life sentence is required because Jones was also convicted of child sex assault charges in Moultrie County in 2000, as a second conviction for such an offense makes a life term mandatory.
At the end of a three-day trial Thursday, the jury deliberated about two hours before finding Jones guilty of nearly all the charges against him.
The single not-guilty verdict was on a charge accusing Jones of molesting a boy who was said to have developmental disabilities.
The boy's accounts of the single incident, in August 2016 when he was 13, during which Jones allegedly molested him, weren't as consistent as that of the others.
However, the jury also heard testimony from the three other boys named as victims in the case as well as the one from the Moultrie County case.
In his closing statement to the jury, Assistant State's Attorney Tom Bucher noted that one boy in the Coles County case said Jones molested him numerous times.
He said the boy displayed "raw emotion" while testifying and it was likely because he revealed something that was too embarrassing for a teenager to normally talk about.
"It's finally an opportunity to tell all the world what this man has been subjecting him to," Bucher said.
The abuse took place between October 2014 and October 2015 before the boy, then 14, "put a stop to it," Bucher said. Jones then began molesting other boys, whom he knew or met through the first victim, he said.
"He has a propensity to sexually molest young boys," Bucher said, calling Jones a "serial child molester."
One of the other boys was 11 years old in the summer of 2016 when, he said, he sometimes woke to find Jones performing a sex act on him, Bucher also noted. The boy testified that Jones told him he was doing it "out of love."
"He was victimizing these kids for his own purpose," Bucher said. "There was no love."
Another boy testified about sex acts by Jones during the summer of last year, when the boy was 13 years old.
In his argument to the jury, Public Defender Anthony Ortega asked "why should you believe" the Coles County boy who said he was the first victimized by Jones.
He urged the jury to consider that the boy faces sex charges himself in another county. The boy and Jones argued the last time they were together and it wasn't until then that the boy contacted police and claimed he was molested, Ortega noted.
"You can consider any bias that he has," Ortega said.
There were also some inconsistencies in the boys' statements over time, he added.
The prosecution claimed the boys did not take part in a "conspiracy" against Jones but one said they did talk about what happened, which was "the more reasonable answer," Ortega also said.
Jones testified and acknowledged his Moultrie County conviction, and said he was remorseful, but denied molesting the boys in Coles County, Ortega also noted.
In response, State's Attorney Brian Bower said the boys were victimized by a "trusted adult" who sometimes used bribery.
Jones wasn't clear about the argument he claimed led the one boy to say he was molested and there was no motivation for the boys to lie, he also said.
"There was an age-appropriate pattern to their recollections," Bower said. "There is a fabric that binds this evidence together and it shows these boys are telling the truth."
The charges against Jones totaled 24 counts and included predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, which alleges sexual penetration by an adult with someone younger than 13.
His conviction for that offense, combined with the Moultrie County conviction, triggers the life sentence requirement. With one victim, a conviction for predatory criminal sexual assault of a child requires a six- to 60-year prison term.
Circuit Judge Brien O'Brien scheduled Jones' sentencing hearing for Oct. 27, when the judge will be asked to make a record of the earlier conviction and impose the life sentence.
Jones hadn't been able to post the $25,000 in bond needed for his release from jail but O'Brien granted a prosecution request to have him held without bond until sentencing.