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Scales of justice

A district court judge under fire in Valley County for his sentence of a man convicted of incest with his 12-year-old daughter has issued a statement defending the punishment.

Valley County District Court Judge John McKeon spoke out after numerous calls from news outlets and an online Change.org petition calling for his impeachment. By Friday evening, the petition had nearly 5,000 signatures.

On Oct. 4, McKeon gave the 40-year-old Glasgow father a 30-year suspended sentence, with 60 days in jail and a recommendation to community-based treatment, according to McKeon's statement. 

The man had pleaded guilty in July to one count of incest as part of a plea agreement to reduce his charges from three counts of incest, according to court documents. 

Unrelated to the case, McKeon announced last month he would retire on Nov. 30 after 22 years on the bench.

In McKeon's statement, he was critical of the way the sentence was reported in the news media, stating it has been incomplete.

The judge pointed to Montana law, which allows him to sentence an offender to less than the mandatory minimum if a psycho-sexual evaluation determined the offender would do better in community-based treatment. 

Valley County Attorney Dylan Jensen, who prosecuted the case, recommended the man be sentenced to 100 years in prison, with 75 suspended. Jensen was shocked and disappointed with the judge's sentence, but respected the decision, he said.

In the judge's statement, McKeon mentions four things that must be considered in sentencing, including public safety, the degree of harm caused, restoring the victim of a crime and encouraging rehabilitation and reintegration of an offender. 

"The court cannot ignore these legal standards," McKeon said. 

McKeon did not address in his statement whether his sentence was commensurate with similar cases in the state.

In Yellowstone County, for example, five incest cases from 2010 to 2014 have gone to sentencing. Three of these men had no criminal history and charges similar to the Glasgow man in this case. 

In 2011, a man was sentenced to four years in the Montana State Prison, with 16 years suspended, for two counts of incest. 

Again in 2011, a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison with 20 years suspended for one count of incest. 

And in 2013, a Yellowstone County man was sentenced to five years in prison with 15 years suspended for one count of incest. 

In the case of the Glasgow man, both the mother of the victim and the maternal grandmother of the victim submitted statements in his defense. They both recommended community placement, McKeon said. 

"What he did to my granddaughter was horrible, and he should face consequences. I certainly never want it to happen again to anyone. But his children, especially his sons, will be devastated if their dad is no longer part of their lives," the maternal grandmother said in her statement to the court.

A forensic specialist and member of the Montana Sex Offender Treatment Association, Michael Sullivan, said at the sentencing that the father could be safely treated and supervised as a sex offender in the community, McKeon said in his statement. 

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The father will be on probation for 30 years and under strict supervision, McKeon said. The man will be required to participate in treatment, his living situation must be approved, he will have to have approval from treatment providers and his probation officer prior to contact with anyone under age 18 and he will have limited access to Internet, McKeon said. 

The prosecutors did not provide McKeon with anything to counter the claims of Sullivan or the wishes of the family, McKeon said. 

Organizers of the petition to impeach the judge said they will deliver their online petition to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. 

It is not the governor's office, however, that investigates judges. Complaints must go to the Judicial Standards Commission, which makes recommendations to the state Supreme Court.

Standards Commission Vice Chair Victor Valgenti said the most outrage against a judge presented during his time on the commission was related to Yellowstone County Judge Todd Baugh.

Baugh resigned after the furor over comments he made during a 2013 case involving the rape of a 14-year-old girl by her former teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold. 

Baugh sentenced Rambold to 30 days in jail, which prosecutors appealed as an illegal sentence. 

During sentencing Baugh suggested the young victim held some responsibility for the crime.

The judge was censured for his comments and suspended for 31 days.

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