A 42-year-old man was sentenced to prison Friday for sexually assaulting two children.
Jesus Villanueva received 40 years in prison, with a 20-year parole restriction, during a hearing before Judge Donald Harris in Yellowstone County District Court.
During a jury trial in April, Villanueva was convicted of sexually assaulting two 7-year-old children. Jurors acquitted him on one count of sexual intercourse without consent.
Villanueva was designated a level three sex offender, which denotes the highest risk for reoffending.
The investigation began in February 2017.
Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Jacob Yerger recommended a term of 80 years, saying the lengthy sentence was necessary to protect the community.
Yerger noted Villanueva’s criminal history spanned 26 years and included both sexual and non-sexual violent crimes, beginning with a forcible rape conviction in Washington state.
Defense attorney Lisa Bazant noted the rape conviction was part of her client’s juvenile criminal record, and juvenile history is treated differently by the courts.
Bazant had asked for 40 years in prison, with 20 years suspended. She argued that Villanueva would be subject to close monitoring by the Department of Corrections’ Probation and Parole Division after his release, due to the level three sex offender designation.
“There is no reason to put this individual in jail for the amount requested by the state,” Bazant said. “And quite honestly, nor should the state of Montana, and its taxpayers, you and I included, be required to pay for that,” she said, addressing the judge.
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Bazant noted it costs the state $39,000 a year to incarcerate someone.
Yerger said Montana law is clear the cost of imprisonment is not to be considered at sentencing.
“To reduce the level of harm caused by the defendant to a financial consideration, which doesn’t appear anywhere in (state sentencing law), really takes away from the justice that’s required by this community, and the justice that the victims in this case demand,” he said.
“Crime is expensive,” he later added.
Yerger also noted Villanueva had treatment opportunities in the past, before committing the sexual assaults.
When it was his turn to speak, Villanueva said he’d made progress in turning his life around before the sexual assaults, citing his involvement with a church and a construction business he ran.
Harris, the judge, said he thought Villanueva was genuine and serious about his desire to change.
“But it’s easy to be genuine and serious about it now,” Harris said.
Harris said childhood sexual abuse had lifelong consequences for the victims.
“It is extraordinarily traumatic to them,” he said. “It follows them throughout their lives. It makes them significantly more vulnerable to abuse in the future, to addiction in the future."