A high school teacher who responded to an online ad to buy sexual encounters with a young teen was sentenced Tuesday, Jan. 11, to 11.5 years in federal prison.
Jonathan Grantham, 46, pleaded guilty in August in U.S. District Court in Augusta to coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity, admitting he took a then-13-year-old girl from Columbia County to an Aiken County hotel in July 2019 to have sex.
“In 2019, I made a horrific choice,” Grantham said Tuesday, continuing as he cried,“I regret the decision so much.”
Grantham was duped into believing the victim was 18 years old, said his attorney, Samuel Emas. When he became suspicious that she may have lied about her age, he ended their encounters, Emas said.
Grantham made a terrible mistake and is paying for it significantly through not only an expected prison term but the loss of a career he loved and the harm and shame he brought on his family, Emas said.
“He didn’t set out to exploit a child,” Emas added.
The victim’s aunt spoke on the child’s behalf Tuesday, telling the judge that she still fears her niece may kill herself even after two years of living in a stable home and undergoing professional counseling. The teen still screams out in the middle of night during nightmares, her aunt said.
Emas asked the judge to impose a sentence of 64 months. The prosecutor filed the formal notice to seek a reduction in Grantham’s possible sentence because of his cooperation in the investigation, including testifying against the man who put the victim online for sale, Michael Gunn of Columbia County.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Lyons asked the judge to take into account what he could see with his own eyes as the victim testified in court and the pictures presented as evidence of the victim when she 13, when Grantham started purchasing her for sex.
“A child in makeup is still a child,” Lyons said. “A child in women’s clothing is still a child.” And a man who has sex with a child is a pedophile, she said.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Randal Hall told Grantham before pronouncing sentencing that he agreed with Lyons on the issue of victim’s appearance. “I watched her testify, and I also saw a lot of photographs of her … of a 13-year-old child you encountered and you transported to South Carolina to a seedy motel for prostitution.
“I don’t know how any man could see that child and think she was 18 years old,” Hall said. “She looked 13 years old in those pictures.”
It was especially troubling that Grantham was a teacher, someone who was entrusted with children.
Hall sentenced Grantham to 140 months in prison, below the sentencing guidelines of 151 to 188 months. Grantham will pay $50,000 in restitution for the victim’s mental health counseling, and he will be on supervised release for the rest of his life.
A photograph discovered during a child pornography investigation in Dallas, Texas, led to Michael Gunn and his ex-wife Amanda Gunn in Columbia County. Further investigation by local FBI agents led to the discovery of Grantham, a Graniteville teacher.
Grantham testified for federal prosecutors in Michael Gunn’s trial in November. He was convicted of sex trafficking charges. Amanda Gunn pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Both Gunns are awaiting sentencing.