By J. STEVEN DILLON

A Lucas County man avoided trial on a rape charge in Hancock County Common Pleas Court by pleading guilty Wednesday to a less serious assault charge as part of a plea bargain.

Joseph Hines, of Whitehouse, was convicted Wednesday of aggravated assault, a fourth-degree felony, and will be sentenced Nov. 28 by Judge Reg Routson following a pre-sentence investigation.

Hines, 21, faces up to 18 months in prison and a maximum $5,000 fine. He also could be placed on probation.

The original rape charge, a first-degree felony, was filed in connection with a Sept. 2, 2017, incident in which Hines allegedly forced a woman he knew to engage in sexual conduct in Liberty Township. The case was scheduled for an Oct. 22 trial, but the trial date was dropped after Hines admitted to the assault offense.

According to the new charge, the assault occurred while Hines was “under the influence of sudden passion or in a sudden fit of rage” brought on by “serious provocation” from the victim.

Both Assistant County Prosecutor Lora Manon and defense attorney Drew Wortman told the court that all the elements of the assault charge didn’t fit the circumstances of the incident, but the resolution was in the best interests of Hines, the woman and their families.

“This is a negotiated plea,” Manon said in court. “It’s a matter that has been agreed upon by the parties and addresses the needs of all of those involved.”

The victim did not address the court Wednesday, but could speak at Hines’ sentencing. Her input will be included in the pre-sentence report to the court.

Hines is free on bond. Had he been convicted of the rape offense, he could have received up to 11 years in prison and would have had to register as a sex offender. There is no registration requirement for the assault conviction.

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