Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Billy Ray Bishop, 69, is led into the courtroom for a December hearing. Bishop agreed to a plea deal in July and was sentenced Wednesday to 5 years in prison for sending lewd pictures and video to a person he thought was a 14-year-old girl and then driving to Safford from Sierra Vista with the intent to engage in sexual activity with the girl – who turned out to be an undercover officer.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – On a hot August night just about one year ago, Billy Ray Bishop came to Safford from Sierra Vista to engage in sexual activity with a 14-year-old girl. However, the person Bishop had been communicating with was in reality a detective with the Arizona Department of Public Safety conducting an Internet Crimes Against Children operation and what he got when he arrived in Safford was a pair of handcuffs and a free ride to jail. Members of the Graham County Sheriff’s Office, Safford and Thatcher Police and Homeland Security also were part of the operation.
On Wednesday, Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Travis Ragland sentenced Bishop, 69, to five years in prison to be followed with supervised lifetime sex offender probation. The case was prosecuted by Graham County Attorney-elect L. Scott Bennett, with Dennis McCarthy serving as Bishop’s attorney.
In December 2019, McCarthy advised the court that he had gone over the plea deal with Bishop the previous week but his client wanted to consult with outside counsel about the plea before he agreed to it. Bishop ultimately decided to keep McCarthy as his representation and agreed to the plea deal.
Bishop was charged with two counts of aggravated luring of a minor for sexual exploitation – Class-3 felonies; luring a minor for sexual exploitation and sexual extortion – both also Class-3 felonies, and furnishing harmful items to a minor – a Class-4 felony. He took a plea agreement in July with an amended count of attempted aggravated luring of a minor for sexual exploitation – a Class-3 felony, sexual extortion – a Class-3 felony, and furnishing harmful items to a minor with sexual motivation – a Class-4 felony.
The plea agreement stipulated Bishop would serve 3 years on the sexual extortion charge and 2 years on the furnishing harmful items charge with the judge deciding whether to have the sentence be served consecutively (one after another) or concurrently. Judge Ragland decided the sentences should be consecutive, to give Bishop five years in prison. Upon his release, the plea agreement also stipulated he is placed on lifetime supervised sex offender probation regarding the charge of attempted aggravated luring.
At his sentencing hearing on August 19, Graham County Attorney-elect L. Scott Bennett argued that the defendant deserved a five-year prison sentence despite the fact that there was no actual victim. Bennett explained that even though this was the defendant’s first felony conviction and the matter involved a virtual victim, the defendant’s intent was to have sex with a child and he should be ordered to serve consecutive sentences for the two prison mandated counts.
“Even though there was not an actual victim, the defendant’s conduct was reprehensible,” Bennett said at the sentencing. “While we can’t punish him for what he likely would have done if this were an actual child, the law allows us to punish him for what he attempted to do and I believe prison is well deserved for the defendant.”
Bishop had originally contacted the undercover agent’s profile of a 14-year-old girl on Aug. 7 on a dating application called “Badoo.” During their correspondence, which included texting directly, Bishop sent lewd pictures of his genitalia of to who he thought was the young girl but was actually the deputy who saved them for prosecution. Bishop also sent a video of him pleasing himself sexually.
A plan was made to meet at the McDonald’s restaurant at 1830 W. Thatcher Blvd. on Aug. 10. However, when Bishop arrived at about 7:50 p.m., he was greeted by an arrest team and taken into custody.
The detectives weren’t satisfied with snaring just one child predator, however, and also enticed another man to Safford who was looking to have sex with a minor girl.
On Aug. 9, 2019, detectives created a second undercover profile on a different social media application called “MeetMe”, which is a location-based social networking and dating application.
That same day, the undercover profile was contacted by a user named “Mr. Rogers”, who immediately asked if the detective wanted to “hook up.” The man said he was going to be driving from Deming, New Mexico to Nogales, Arizona, and could stop by on the way.
Mr. Rogers – later identified as being Christoper Decker, 29, had his account suspended, so Decker created another one under the moniker “Mr. Richard” and asked the detective for a picture.
The detective sent a fake picture and Decker responded with, “Can we hook up at your house or do we have to do it in the car?’
The detective advised that his profile’s mother was home and responded, “Yo just making sure ur cool w me being 14. Don’t want to waste r time.”(sic)
Decker responded he was on his way and agreed to meet in front of a hotel room. After initially requesting the detective walk across the street to meet him, Decker agreed to pull up outside of the room and informed the detective that he was outside waiting.
At that time, an arrest team contacted Decker and took him into custody. Decker allegedly admitted to messaging the undercover detective and that he detoured his trip to meet with what he advised was a 14-year-old girl for a sexual encounter. Decker was then booked into the Graham County Adult Detention Facility on a charge of luring a minor for sexual exploitation.
Decker pleaded guilty in March to one amended count of attempted luring of a minor for sexual exploitation – a Class-4 Felony and dangerous crime against children.
The same day, he was sentenced by Greenlee County Superior Court Judge Monica L. Stauffer sentenced Decker to 2.5 years in prison with credit for 216 days served. According to the plea agreement, Judge Stauffer could have sentenced Decker to a term of probation, which would include lifetime sex offender terms or a stipulated 2.5 years in prison. Both the prosecuting attorney – Graham County Deputy Attorney Scott Adams – and Decker’s attorney – Kristin Curry – both agreed that prison would be the best option for Decker.
“At this point in time, he is asking to go ahead and go to the (Arizona) Department of Corrections for the 2.5-year term,” Curry said. “He believes just to be able to get the punishment up front, so he can move on with his life (and) move back to New Mexico.”
Curry also advised that Decker’s intention was to go back to New Mexico and be with his family – including a son – as soon as possible.