- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

SAPULPA, Okla. (AP) - A former Oklahoma state trooper accused of sexually assaulting women during traffic stops was sentenced Tuesday to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Eric Roberts pleaded guilty to several charges, including procuring indecent exposure with an adult, embezzlement and bribery.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop more serious charges against Roberts, who was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison, followed by 10 years of probation.

If he was found guilty on the dismissed charges - which had included sexual battery and rape by instrumentation - Roberts could have faced a near-life prison term, his attorney said. The plea deal also keeps Roberts from having to register as a sex offender when he is released from prison - which could be in four years or less.

“Mr. Roberts would have not pleaded if he had to register as a sex offender,” said defense attorney Gary James. “The risk of sex offender registry could haunt you the rest of your life.”

Prosecutor Max Cook said the victims were agreeable to a plea deal.

Roberts had been accused of sexually assaulting three women during traffic stops. He did not speak during Tuesday’s hearing other than to acknowledge his plea, and James maintained that the sexual contact with the women was consensual.

After his son was led from the courtroom in handcuffs, his father, Sonny, said his son only took the plea because the family couldn’t afford attorneys’ fees if the case went to a jury trial.

“(The plea) was the only alternative,” Sonny Roberts said after the sentencing. “He had no choice; it just drug on and drug on.”

Cook, the prosecutor, disputed James’ claim that the sexual incidents were consensual.

“Mr. Roberts said he was guilty. I was convinced of his guilt or I wouldn’t have filed the charges,” Cook said.

Roberts was suspended in July 2014, but the allegations didn’t come to light until August 2014 when a woman filed a federal lawsuit claiming Roberts raped her following a traffic stop. Two more women later came forward with similar allegations.

Roberts was one of three Oklahoma law officers to be charged with similar crimes around the same time.

Former Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy Gerald Nuckolls was convicted last year of sexual battery and indecent exposure for his actions while on duty and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Former Oklahoma City Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted last December of raping and sexually victimizing women while on his beat and was sentenced to 263 years in prison on 18 separate counts, including first-degree rape.

The Associated Press highlighted Holtzclaw’s case as part of a yearlong investigation into sexual misconduct by law officers, finding that about 1,000 officers in the U.S. lost their licenses for sex crimes or other sexual misconduct over a six-year period. Those figures are likely an undercount, because not every state has a process to ban problem officers from law enforcement.

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