FCI Dublin prison guard defense team asks for leniency citing hard childhood because he is gay

Former FCI Dublin safety manager John Bellhouse of Pleasanton starts filming a KTVU crew at the federal courthouse in Oakland on his second day of his sex abuse trial. May 31, 2023

Federal prosecutors are asking that a judge sentence a former correctional manager at the all-women's prison in Dublin to 10 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of five counts of sex abuse. 

Meanwhile, John Bellhouse's attorneys are asking that he be sentenced to no more than 2.25 years in prison, revealing his sexual orientation and his difficult childhood as key reasons to seek leniency. 

For the first time, his attorneys indicated that Bellhouse – convicted of abusing at least two women and accused of abusing at least three more -- is gay and indicated that his family's non-acceptance of his homosexuality affected him in a negative way. 

And while his defense team, Shaffy Moeel and Kathryn Ross, didn't explicitly blame his sexual orientation for his sexual abuse of women, the memorandum they wrote to U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers makes clear that his parents' rejection of his coming out had something to do with his bad behavior. 

That didn't sit well with an attorney representing many of the women sexually abused at FCI Dublin. 

"They're just grasping at straws," sex survivor attorney Kara Janssen told KTVU on Monday. "And it's also really offensive." 

On June 5, a jury convicted Bellhouse, who lives in Pleasanton, of two counts of sexual abuse of a ward and three counts of abusive sexual contact, involving two women. 

Bellhouse was found guilty of hugging, kissing and receiving oral sex from one woman starting at the end of 2019 and ending in the fall of 2020. Bellhouse was also found guilty of flirting with and fondling another woman. 

Prosecutors named a total of five women in their sentencing memorandum that Bellhouse had illegal sexual encounters with but they only charged him for two women – a source of contention with many sex abuse survivors at FCI Dublin. The judge has also chastised the prosecutors for doing this, telling them that they shouldn't be bringing women's names up if they aren't charging the officers for sex crimes against them. 

In their request for a lighter sentence, Bellhouse's lawyers described their client's early life in Leadville, Colo., as a difficult one. His parents had him at a young age and divorced when he was 2. He grew up in a conservative community, which "provided a challenging backdrop for being gay," his defense team wrote. 

Bellhouse kept his sexuality a secret, his lawyers said, coming out only to his parents – a disclosure that was "not taken well by either." 

His father rejected him and treated him as "sick," the court papers state. His mother simply changed the subject when he told her and so, he "grew up pretending to be someone that he wasn't and experienced feelings of self hate." 

Bellhouse grew up an introvert and a loner, his lawyers reiterated - a theme that was relayed during his trial. 

And so, he found "purpose in his work," his lawyers said, touting his achievements in the Bureau of Prison system, saying he went out of his way to help his colleagues and other incarcerated women.

U.S. Attorneys Andrew Paulson and Molly Priedman disputed how model an employee Bellhouse was, and vehemently argued that his so-called kindness to women was a means of grooming them for sexual abuse. 

"Bellhouse used the prisoners at FCI Dublin for his own sexual gratification because he thought he would get away with it," the prosecutors wrote. "He thought his power as a guard and his victims’ status as felons would insulate him from the consequences of his actions. As he told one prisoner moments before he assaulted her cellmate in front of her, ‘Nobody’s going to believe her. She’s an inmate, and I’m an officer.’ He was wrong."

The prosecutors dismissed any request for a lighter sentence because of Bellhouse's sexual orientation.

"Now, faced with the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence, Bellhouse requests leniency from the court because, among other things, he claims his homosexuality has created difficulties in his life," the US attorneys wrote. "While Bellhouse's sexual abuse of the female prisoners was not consistent with the man he portrayed himself to be to his family, it was entirely consistentwith the man he actually as: someone who was intensely sexually attracted to the women over whom he held power."  

Based on past sentencing, Gonzales Rogers will likely not sentence Bellhouse to 10 years, as that is more than what current sentencing guidelines call for. 

But it's also likely, based on her public statements that the sexual behavior at FCI Dublin disgust her, that she won't sentence him to the minimum either.

Gonzales Rogers' actions have also shown she takes these cases seriously, but keeps legal sentencing guidelines in mind as well. 

Last week, she sentenced former FCI Dublin food services manager Andrew Jones to eight years in prison – the longest sentence so far of the eight officers convicted of sex crimes. He pleaded guilty to having sexual intercourse with women – which Bellhouse was not found guilty of. 

Gonzalez Rogers sentenced former FCI Dublin Warden Ray Garcia to nearly six years in prison. 

Bellhouse is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 1. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@fox.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez