A St. Helena Island man was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for sexually abusing two boys he helped look after from 2009 to 2010.
James Simmons Jr., 37, was convicted on two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, according to a news release from the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office.
The abuse occurred at a home on Seaside Road on St. Helena that Simmons shared with his sister, Solicitor's Office spokesman Daniel Brownstein said. The victims were 7 to 9 years old at the time.
In 2011, the boys told a relative they had been abused by Simmons while in his care, and the relative contacted the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
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Brownstein said Simmons was related to the two victims and cared for them while their legal guardian was working.
The victims were interviewed by specialists at Hope Haven of the Lowcountry rape crisis center, who determined their stories were "consistent and credible," according to the release.
Simmons was arrested in July 2012.
Brownstein said the boys told the relative about the abuse after they were placed in the person's care. The relative ultimately adopted the two boys.
Assistant solicitor Mary Jordan Lempesis prosecuted Simmons in the case. In the release, she said the verdict "ensured these children's bravery would be rewarded with justice."
"One of our jobs as prosecutors is to protect the most vulnerable in our society," she said. "I am proud of the children in this case for having the courage to tell their story and to prevent this dangerous man from hurting anyone else."
The jury deliberated for six hours Thursday after a three-day trial before reaching the guilty verdict. Shortly after the jury announced its verdict, Judge Carmen Mullen gave the maximum sentence of life in prison.
Brownstein said the two victims testified during the trial, along with 11 other witnesses. Simmons did not testify and did not speak before he was sentenced, Brownstein said.
Simmons had prior convictions for criminal domestic violence and malicious injury to personal property, according to the release.