YAKIMA, Wash. — A woman who was sexually assaulted by a Yakima teenager along the Powerhouse Canal Trail in March 2017 said she feared she would die and not see her family again.
In a letter read at her attacker’s sentencing hearing, the woman said she cannot go out and do the things she used to. She fears that any young man who approaches her could be another rapist, she said.
“It is better to be dead than to be one of your victims, dead in life,” the woman wrote, adding that whatever sentence Joshua Pulliam got did not matter to her.
Pulliam, 17, who pleaded guilty to attacking her and two other women on public walking trails in 2017, was sentenced Friday in Yakima County Superior Court to at least 16 years in prison. And if a state sentencing review board thinks he continues to be a threat, he could remain in prison for as long as he lives.
Pulliam, who was 16 when he was arrested, initially was charged as a juvenile with rape and assault, but his case was transferred to Superior Court for him to be tried as an adult. He pleaded guilty in September to first- and second-degree rape, second- and fourth-degree assault and felony harassment in connection with the three incidents.
Yakima police detectives Mike Durbin and Curtis Oja said sexual assaults by strangers are unusual to begin with, but to have three committed by the same person is alarming.
“From a law-enforcement perspective, every day he is in custody is a day we do not have to worry about him,” Durbin said.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Nicholas Barrett wanted Judge Ruth Reukauf to set the minimum sentence at the top of the sentencing range — 18 years. First-degree rape charges carry an indeterminate sentence, with a maximum of life.
While Pulliam was a juvenile when he committed the attacks, Barrett said that the crimes lacked the hallmarks of a teenage crime, such as being driven by peer pressure or a single bad decision in an otherwise normal life.
“It was not one reckless indiscretion. It was a course of events,” Barrett said, adding that it also showed elements of premeditation.
Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic said the crimes were heinous in that the women were strangers and attacked in public places.
‘A child full of evil’
The first incident was on March 8, 2017, when authorities say Pulliam attacked a woman who was walking along the Powerhouse Canal Trail around 6:20 p.m. The woman told police that Pulliam hit and choked her and threatened to kill her with a rock before raping her. Police did not have a suspect at that point.
“You are a child, but a child full of evil,” the woman said in her letter to the court at sentencing.
Pulliam, police said, attacked another woman on May 19, 2017, along the Yakima Greenway near North Sixth Avenue and Gordon Road. A passerby came to the woman’s aid. Pulliam left but was arrested later.
That case was initially dismissed without prejudice due to the fact that investigators could not find the woman afterward. Brusic said the dismissal in May was because prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence to bring the case to trial. Plus, at that time, he said authorities had not linked Pulliam to the March assault.
They refiled the case shortly after Pulliam’s arrest for a Nov. 22, 2017, attack along the Greenway Trail near Sarg Hubbard Park.
Barrett said the victim from May was not in court Friday because she was too traumatized by her experience.
On Nov. 22, a woman told Yakima police she was raped while jogging near Sarg Hubbard Park. Her attacker, she told officers, threw her phone away when she tried to call 911.
The woman, who spoke at the sentencing hearing, told Reukauf she did not want to waste time dwelling on the trauma of her experience, but she expressed gratitude for what she called a “blessing in disguise.”
“I want to remember feeling honored that God chose me to make this sacrifice to prevent more women from falling prey to this man,” the woman said. “I want to remember feeling blessed for being able to meet all these amazing people who work so hard every day to protect people just like me.”
The victim described her attacker, and police found Pulliam at a nearby park. DNA from Pulliam after his arrest linked him to the March attack, Barrett said.
Oja said the only reason for the gaps between attacks was that Pulliam was in custody for juvenile offenses.
“It is not my job to understand what makes Josh do these things, but when he is out and about, the whole community is at risk,” Oja said.
Pulliam’s mother told the court that she wants to see her son get the treatment he needs. She laid blame on the courts and schools for his criminal behavior.
“I tried to get him treatment, but the system failed Josh. The school failed him,” his mother told the court. “I told his probation officer that he was looking at porn on his phone and he needed help, but she said, ‘Kids will be kids.’”
She said the probation officer was dismissive when Pulliam broke out the window on her van.
Teen asks for forgiveness
Pulliam told Judge Reukauf he was sorry for what happened to the women.
“I hope they will forgive me. I know they wouldn’t want to,” he said.
Reukauf said there was a time when judges could sentence juveniles convicted as adults to life without parole or even death, but the courts now recognize that teens are different from adults. They are more likely to act on impulse and not weigh consequences, which she said she was considering in backing off from the top of the sentencing range.
But she said the life-altering effects the crimes had on their victims had to be weighed as well. And she added that if Pulliam is ever released from jail, he will remain on parole for the rest of his life.