A Virginia man who has fathered children with several women has agreed to get a vasectomy to reduce his prison term to 20 months in a child endangerment case that has evoked the country's dark history of forced sterilization.
None of the charges against Jessie Lee Herald, 27, involved a sexual offense. Shenandoah County assistant prosecutor Ilona White said her chief motive in making the extraordinarily unusual offer is to keep Herald from fathering more than the seven children he has by at least six women.
"He needs to be able to support the children he already has when he gets out," she said.
Though Herald willingly — if reluctantly, according to his attorney — signed on to the deal, the agreement calls to mind the surgical sterilizations carried out in Virginia and dozens of other states during the 20th century under the discredited pseudoscience called eugenics, said Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor.
Steve Benjamin of Richmond, past president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said, "This takes on the appearance of social engineering."
About 8,000 people deemed genetically inferior or deficient were forcibly sterilized in Virginia from the 1920s to about 1970. Many other states also had eugenics programs but abandoned them after World War II, when forced sterilization became closely associated with Nazi Germany's racial purity efforts.
Charles Ramsey, Herald's attorney, and White, the prosecutor, disputed any suggestion that the plea deal for Herald has similarities to eugenics.
Herald, of Edinburg, was sentenced this month to one year and eight months in prison for child endangerment, hit and run, and driving on a suspended license in a crash in which authorities said his 3-year-old son was bloodied but not seriously hurt.
The agreement requires Herald to undergo the operation within a year of being released from prison and prohibits him for five years from having the vasectomy reversed while he is on probation.