Online sexual predators’ cases moving forward under new judges

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Billy Ray Bishop, 68, is led into the courtroom for his change of plea hearing. Bishop was granted more time to have an outside attorney look at the plea before he signs it. Bishop is one of two alleged online sexual predators caught in a DPS operation.

By Jon Johnson

jonjohnsonnews@gmail.com

SAFFORD – The cases against two alleged online sexual predators who were lured to Safford during an Arizona Department of Public Safety Internet Crimes Against Children operation are moving toward resolution, albeit under two new judges. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Billy Ray Bishop is facing multiple charges relating to luring a minor for sex.

The story unfolded like a scene from the former television show “To Catch a Predator” as Billy Ray Bishop, 68, of Sierra Vista, and Christopher Decker, 28, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, both traveled in separate, unrelated cases, to Safford under the guise of the opportunity to have sex with 14-year-old girls they had met on social networking and dating application sites. The “girls” were actually detectives corresponding with the men. (See Gila Herald: Online sexual predators lured to Graham County under the guise of ‘hooking up’ with 14-year-old girls – Aug. 14, 2019)

Billy Ray Bishop

In addition to coming to Safford from Sierra Vista for underage sex, Bishop is also accused of sending lewd pictures of his genitalia and a video of him masturbating to the detectives, whom he thought was a 14-year-old girl. 

Bishop is 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. 

On Wednesday, Bishop appeared in front of Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Travis Ragland for a change of plea hearing. Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael D. Peterson had worked as the settlement conference judge on the case and then handed it over to Judge Ragland for accepting a plea and sentencing. 

Bishop’s attorney, Dennis McCarthy, advised the court that he had gone over the plea deal with Bishop the previous week but now his client wanted to consult with outside counsel about the plea before he agrees to it. 

Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney L. Scott Bennett did not object to Bishop meeting with outside counsel about the deal but if he didn’t sign what is offered the case would go to trial. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Christopher Decker walks out of the courtroom after his hearing. His attorney’s motion for a new judge was approved.

“We’re getting real close to fish or cut bait time,” Bennett said. “He (Bishop) can do my deal when we come back to court but if it’s not signed, locked and loaded and ready to go, then we’re setting it for trial and we’re done.”

Judge Ragland agreed and said he would set a date for the trial and if Bishop signed a plea agreement then they would simply vacate the trial date. Judge Ragland then set Bishop’s trial to run from April 7 – 10 if a plea deal is not signed at a reset change of plea hearing for Jan. 21 at 1:30 p.m. Bishop remains incarcerated on a $250,000 cash-only bond. 

Christopher Decker

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Christopher Decker is charged with one count of luring a minor for sexual exploitation – a Class-3 felony.

Decker is the second suspect in the Internet Crimes Against Children operation and his case is unrelated to Bishop’s other than it was the same type of sting on a different location-based social networking and dating application.

Decker is charged with one count of luring a minor for sexual exploitation – a Class-3 felony. 

On Tuesday, Decker appeared in court for a pre-trial conference while his attorney appeared telephonically and requested Judge Peterson recuse himself from the case under the belief that the judge would not accept a pending plea agreement. While Judge Peterson advised that some information in the attorney’s motion for a new judge was not correct, he acquiesced and assigned Gila County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Gary V. Scales to take over the case. 

Decker remains incarcerated at the Graham County Adult Detention Facility on a $250,000 cash-only bond.

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