Two molestation trials end with guilty verdicts

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Joshua Steven Sullivan (left) and Jahangir Shaffighi were both convicted of molesting children in unrelated cases Wednesday.

Two men accused of molesting children in unrelated cases were convicted in two separate Knox County courtrooms within 30 minutes of each other Wednesday evening. 

Both trials lasted for three days this week, and both juries returned verdicts at nearly the same time, according to Assistant District Attorney Sean McDermott of the Knox County DA’s Office.

The first verdict was announced at 6:40 p.m. in the case of Joshua Steven Sullivan, 40, who was accused of raping the 11-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend.

Jurors returned guilty verdicts on two counts of child rape, one count of attempted child rape, and one count of aggravated sexual battery.

Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword set a January 14 sentencing hearing. Sullivan faces at least 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole, McDermott said. 

“On September 2, 2019, Sullivan sexually abused the eleven-year-old victim. Later that night, the victim disclosed the abuse to her friend, sister, and mother. The victim was taken to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital for a sexual assault examination where DNA was recovered that was consistent with Sullivan,” McDermott explained. 

“After the victim left the home to go to the hospital, Sullivan fled the scene but called his son who was still at the home and instructed him to wash the victim’s sheets. Sullivan made his son show him over Facetime that he was placing the sheets in the washing machine,” he continued.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office took the case, and the victim later disclosed that Sullivan had been abusing her for a year during a forensic interview at ChildHelp USA. 

“At trial, Sullivan testified that his son committed the offense. The jury discredited this testimony, believed the victim, and found him guilty,” said McDermott. 

The second guilty verdict was returned at 7 p.m. in Judge Scott Green’s courtroom. 

 Jahangir Shaffighi, 62, a former taekwondo instructor, was convicted of abusing an 11-year-old student in Knoxville nearly 30 years ago.

Although Shaffighi was first arrested in 1994 by a Knoxville Police Department investigator, he made bond and fled to Iran. He remained on the lam until 2016, when he was apprehended by the U.S. Marshals Service, according to McDermott.

“Assistant District Attorneys Nate Ogle and Joanie Stewart explained to the jury that in 1992, Shaffighi was a taekwondo instructor, and the victim was one of his students,” he said. “For eight months, when the victim was ten and eleven years old, Shaffighi sexually assaulted the child. The victim disclosed the abuse three months after stopping the taekwondo classes.”

Shaffighi was convicted of aggravated rape and sexual battery. He will be sentenced under Tennessee law as it stood in 1992, before the Legislature created the child rape law, explained McDermott. 

He will face 15 to 25 years in prison for the rape count and 8 to 12 years for the sexual battery offense when he is sentenced by Judge Green at a December 16 hearing.

“The verdict in this case was long overdue, but we never stopped pursuing justice on behalf of this victim,” said DA Charme Allen.

Published on November 11, 2021.