A former Vernon resident was sentenced in 3rd District Court Tuesday to six months in jail for abusing his daughter over a period of seven years, 18 years ago.
The 67-year-old man, whom the Transcript-Bulletin is not naming in an effort to protect the identity of the victim, apologized to the court, the victim and his family for sexually abusing his daughter from 1987 to 1994 when she was a child. According to statements made in court Tuesday, the girl reported the abuse to her mother in 1994, and the man subsequently told his LDS bishop what he had done. This resulted in him being excommunicated from the church, but the bishop never reported the crime.
Gary Searle, chief deputy attorney for the Tooele County Attorney’s Office, said he does not know exactly what the law in 1994 would have demanded of a bishop who was told of the commission of a crime, but even if the bishop was legally required to report that crime to authorities, the bishop in this case would have been long past prosecution.
“We’re talking about what the law would have been 18 years ago. Even if there was a law — again, I don’t know — the statute of limitations would have expired,” Searle said. “Any statute of limitations would have expired in 1998.”
The man, who moved to southern Utah within the last four years, pled guilty to three charges of sexual abuse of a child, a second-degree felony, in February.
“I’m very sorry for what I did. It’s been a very long time ago but I’m still sorry,” the man said. “This would never happen again, if I could go back.”
Last September, the man’s 40-year-old son was sentenced to three concurrent sentences of five years to life in prison for sexually abusing his own teenage daughter at a farming property being used by the family in Salt Lake County. The younger man is also not being named to protect his victim’s identity.
This case came about as a result of that case. The younger man self-reported his actions to authorities, and during the course of that investigation, which focused solely on the abuse of that man’s daughter, other family members told authorities that abuse had occurred in the previous generation, as well, Searle said. Subsequent interviews with family members revealed the abuse against the older man’s daughter.
The 67-year-old man’s attorney, David White, argued against incarceration because of his client’s otherwise clean record, the time that has elapsed since the crime occurred, the man’s cooperation with authorities, and getting sex offender treatment since charges were filed last August. White also cited the man’s poor health, which requires him to take 10 different medications for an array of ailments, as a reason for Judge Robert Adkins to consider sentencing the man to home confinement.
“If the defendant was incarcerated in prison or jail, that in effect could very well be a life sentence,” White said.
White added that imprisonment would remove the patriarch from a close-knit family, and the victim had stated that much of her healing and closure is due to those familial relations.
“Incarceration for [the defendant] at this point is absolutely not good for the victim or society,” White said. “The victim in this case is very adamant that she doesn’t want her father incarcerated.”
Tooele County Attorney Doug Hogan said while the his office tries to communicate with victims and honor their wishes as much as possible, there is significant disagreement in this case. Hogan said one of the aspects cited as a reason for leniency by White — the man’s cooperation — was of particular debate.
“There’s a difference between voluntary and voluntary under threat of something that is coming,” Hogan said. “He didn’t stop the abuse voluntarily. The abuse continued until she told her mother and the family dynamics changed. I don’t view that as a voluntary stopping of reprehensible behavior.”
Hogan said he believes part of the victim’s motivation in requesting that her father not be incarcerated is due to the reported recent improvement in family relations. Despite the man’s medical problems, and concerns that the victim would be blamed by family members for her father’s incarceration, Hogan said he urged the court to sentence the man to prison.
“I know the defendant has a host of medical problems, and I know our jail would probably squawk like crazy if they had to attend to them all, but I do think there has to be judgment on this case,” Hogan said. “[The victim] should have no responsibility whatsoever for what happens today.”
Adkins said while the length of time between when the abuse occurred and when it was reported to law enforcement did have some bearing on the sentence — because there are no indications that other victims were abused during the interim — he did not believe probation or home confinement was an appropriate punishment for such a crime.
“I simply cannot understand it,” Adkins told the man. “You were the adult. You were the parent. You had the control and the child is totally blameless, and she has been deprived of a normal father-daughter relationship. If the court doesn’t appropriately deal with this, it sends the message to others that this isn’t important, that it doesn’t matter. This is one of the most important matters the court has.”
The man was sentenced to three concurrent sentences of one to 15 years in prison and a total of $30,000 in fines, which were suspended in lieu of 180 days in jail and 36 months probation with a $1,500 fine. The man will also have to complete sex offender treatment, as well as any other treatment recommendations suggested by therapists. His jail sentence began immediately.
Searle said while the sentence is lighter than sentences typically given for similar crimes, the family’s request and the time since the abuse were influential on that sentencing.
“I think it has a lot to do with the time frame that’s passed. There have been things that have happened in the family — healing, those kinds of things — which have gone on and they were looking for a result that would allow them to move forward rather than in a typical sex abuse case where the family’s looking for some serious punishment,” he said. “I absolutely think that was the reason for it. I think if the victim had come in and wanted him to go to prison, he would have gone to prison. But I think the judge deferred to what the victim wanted.”