A 30-year-old man who raped his teenage foster daughter, resulting in a pregnancy, was sentenced to prison Wednesday.
Yellowstone County District Judge Ashley Harada sentenced the man to 20 years in prison, with five of those years suspended, or served on probation.
The man, whom The Billings Gazette is not naming to avoid identifying the victim, was designated a level-one sex offender, which is the lowest of three levels and denotes a low risk for a repeat sexual offense. He has no criminal history.
The defense and prosecution had entered a plea agreement under which the man pleaded guilty to a single count of sexual intercourse without consent.
The state was recommending 12 years with the Department of Corrections, with seven of those years suspended, or served on probation. A DOC sentence can result in the defendant being placed in any setting from probation to prison, but also allows for placement in a prerelease or treatment facility.
The defense was asking for probation only. Defense attorney Kris Copenhaver said her client was working a full-time job as well as a part-time job, had caught up in his child support payments, secured housing for himself in a Billings sober living home and was progressing “extraordinarily well" in sex offender treatment.
The man has children in addition to the child that resulted from the rape. In the case of the rape, the victim carried the child to term and placed it for adoption.
The man said he believed prison would be a setback for him because it would remove his obligation to manage daily responsibilities in the community, like holding a job, paying child support, continuing with treatment and managing his life. He said through treatment he had learned about his problems that enabled him to victimize the teen.
“A lot of my defenses were confusion, denial, anger,” he said. “I would use that to try to minimize what I had done to the victim, to the victim’s family, to my family, to society in general.”
But the judge was not persuaded.
“You talk about dealing with your confusion, denial and anger,” Harada said. “Imagine being a 16-year-old girl who’s pregnant, without anyone, and having to decide what to do with that baby.”
Harada said the 16-year-old was vulnerable to begin with, coming from a difficult situation into the man’s home for foster care. The man and his wife at the time had chosen to become foster parents.
Harada said the man took from the girl the opportunity "to enjoy the birth of her first child," and she said he had groomed the girl during her time in his home.
Harada applauded the man’s recent progress in work, treatment and other areas of life, but said prison time was necessary to ensure sufficient punishment.
“I do think that there is a lot of hope for you,” Harada said. “I do believe you when you say that you can be in this community and be safe.”
The man was ordered to pay $15,459 in restitution to cover the victim’s medical expenses. The victim did not attend the hearing or submit a statement to be read on her behalf.
Copenhaver objected to the sentence, saying the sentencing policies of Montana require judges to strike a balance between punishment and rehabilitation, and that her client was showing strong signs of rehabilitation.
The man was originally set to be sentenced in September, but the hearing was delayed due to crowding at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility and concerns about COVID-19.
The Montana Department of Corrections has reduced the frequency with which it transports jail inmates into its prisons or other facilities, citing the need to minimize movement due to the pandemic. For months, many transfers were suspended. Harada said the man would likely have sat in the jail for several months because of that.
But Copenhaver said she had a client who was sentenced to the Montana State Prison in November and he is still being held in the Yellowstone County jail.
The Department of Corrections said it could not provide current numbers on weekly transfers into the men's prison by press time on Wednesday.