Billings woman sentenced for harboring teen runaway

2013-08-26T18:08:00Z 2013-08-26T23:56:04Z Billings woman sentenced for harboring teen runawayBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A Billings woman who harbored a 13-year-old runaway for three weeks and gave him illegal drugs while the boy's mother and police searched for him was sent to prison Monday.

Yellowstone County District Judge Russell Fagg ordered Nicole Lynn Hutchinson to serve 10 years at Montana Women's Prison, with eight years suspended, for felony charges of custodial interference and tampering.

Hutchinson was sentenced after a hearing that included testimony from a police detective and the boy's mother, who described how Hutchinson repeatedly denied knowing where the boy was hiding even as she let him sleep in her bed and gave him marijuana and prescription pills.

Hutchinson pleaded guilty to the felony charges and a misdemeanor obstruction charge in April after striking a plea agreement that called the dismissal of a felony drug charge.

On Monday, prosecutors sought a sentence of eight years in prison, while Hutchinson's defense attorney argued for a suspended sentence.

Hutchinson admitted that she hid the boy, Thomas Peace, at her home near 10th Street West and Grand Avenue between Oct. 17 and Nov. 8, 2011.

Peace was reported a runaway by his mother on Oct. 17, and he was later listed by police as a missing person.

When her son ran away, Molly Peace, his mother, said she and other family members launched a search, posting numerous fliers and asking the public for help locating the boy.

During that time, Peace said Monday, the fliers she posted near Hutchinson's house were ripped down. When asked about her son, Peace said, Hutchinson denied knowing where he was and told Peace to stop harassing her.

Peace asked the judge to order Hutchinson to prison, saying a message should be sent to other parents and adults who may consider similar acts.

"I'm not the perfect parent by any means, but there has to be some limits," she said.  

Police located the boy 22 days after he left home when they entered Hutchinson's house and found him asleep on her bed.

Police Detective Brett Lapham testified that the boy later told police Hutchinson gave him marijuana and smoked it with him and her own children daily.

Hutchinson also gave the boy pills that made him groggy, Lapham said the boy reported later, and once she played a pornographic movie in front of the children.

Hutchinson has five children, including the oldest, a boy, who is about the same age as Thomas Peace.

A counselor and social worker testified that Hutchinson was a victim of abuse as a child and since her arrest has done well in treatment.           

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