gavel and justice scales

A registered sex offender living in Statesville pleaded guilty in Iredell County Superior Court Wednesday to a 2019 sexual assault.

Justin Lee Bruce, 31, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree rape. Judge Joe Crosswhite sentenced Bruce to an active term of 67-141 months and five years post-release supervision. Bruce is receiving credit for time served and will be referred to available counseling and services. He will also have to remain on the sex offender registry for life.  

Assistant District Attorney Scott Cranford said Bruce had been abusing the victim for a prolonged period and had sexually assaulted the victim when she was experiencing a seizure.

The victim, Tia Bartlett, gave permission for her name to be used. She told the judge the suffering she endured from Bruce would stay with her the rest of her life.

“My self-esteem is as low as it possibly can get,” she said. “I might physically heal from this, but not mentally.”

Tears rolled down her face. She wiped them away from her eyes with one hand; the other arm was set in a cast and resting in a sling.

David Minor, Bruce’s attorney, said his client wants to be done with the charges and is willing to serve time incarcerated for the assault. Bruce declined to speak when offered the chance to address the court.

Bartlett said Bruce began assaulting her in April 2019 and that continued until his arrest in August. She said she’d lost count as to how many times he’d raped her once the number topped 20.

“I’m afraid to go out in public,” she said. “I’m afraid to trust anybody.”

Bartlett said she spends most days staying in her room with the curtains drawn. She stays with family now and relies on others for transportation.

A punch from Bruce dislocated Bartlett’s jaw, limiting what and how she eats. She called it debilitating to be a 39-year-old woman in public ordering mashed potatoes and having to eat them with a straw.

Bartlett’s already had two surgeries for injuries she sustained from Bruce, and is expecting to undergo eight more.

She also mentioned the guilty plea doesn’t feel like justice.

“I have to walk around with scars on my face and on my face (and) arms for the rest of my life,” she said. “He didn’t even stand up to say he was sorry.”  

The case was previously outlined in warrants, arrest reports and official documents. According to documents, officers responded to Davis Regional Hospital regarding a physical and sexual assault, the Statesville Police Department reported. Police said they learned a woman had been assaulted at a home on Fifth Street and information gained from multiple interviews led to charges being filed against Bruce, who was placed under arrest at the police department.  

Bruce was accused of assaulting a woman, punched her in the mouth twice, causing her jaw to be wired shut, warrants indicated. In a search warrant filed by Cpl. Kathleen Pope with SPD, on July 30, Pope received a voicemail from Bruce admitting his guilt in the sexual assault of the victim. The warrant further stated Bruce provided a written statement confirming his involvement in the offense during an in-person interview the next day.

On Aug. 13, Bruce, of Fifth Street, was charged.

In 2009, Bruce was convicted of two counts of indecent liberties with a minor stemming to an assault in July 2007, state records indicate. The victim's age was reported as 5 at the time of the assault.

He has been a registered sex offender since July 2010.

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