WEST CHESTER — “Two young women who as girls had been molested repeatedly by their stepfather in their New Garden home told a Common Pleas Court judge on Friday that the grip he had held on them had finally loosened and they had begun the process of healing their emotional wounds.
“With the help (of authorities) and the jury, I am finally free,” said one, who told Senior Judge Thomas Gavin she had started a family of her own and had developed “a freedom I never imagined I would feel.”
In her address to the judge at the sentencing hearing, her sister echoed that sentiment then added how proud she was that she fought the control her stepfather had wielded over her.
“As you know, even my mother didn’t believe me” when she reported the sexual misconduct that her stepfather had forced upon her, she said. “But I am more than he ever made me think.”
Both women asked Gavin to give the man as harsh a sentence as possible so that he would not be free to harm others.
Gavin, who presided over the man’s trial in April, sentenced the defendant to 22½ to 45 years in state prison, running a series of mandatory prison terms for sexual crimes against minors back-to-back, as he was urged to do by the prosecution.
The judge said that his expectation is that the defendant, who continued at the hearing to maintain his innocence, would not be released from prison until he is nearly 90 years old. He is now 45.
The nature of the crime — a family member preying on young children — appeared to resonate with Gavin, who said he had sentenced many adult offenders in child sexual abuse cases in his 29 years on the bench and continues not to understand them.
“The idea that parents are protectors of their children is sometimes not true,” the judge said to the defendant in his remarks. “Individuals who were supposed to be safe and secure in your presence were not.”
The man, whose name is being withheld to protect the identity of his victims, said he had faith the God would see him through whatever prison term Gavin handed down, but otherwise he did not acknowledge the crimes for which he was found guilty.
The molestation, which occurred over a period of several years, came to light in 2011 when the man’s 4-year-old granddaughter told her mother of an incident with the man, after which police were called and charges were eventually filed. Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Pitts, the lead prosecutor in the case, called the molestation a “family secret” that the older girls’ mother tried to downplay and avoid.
The jury that heard the case found the man, a self-employed contractor, found guilty of one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse for his actions with the 4-year-old, six counts of aggravated indecent assault, multiple counts of indecent assault, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children.
The trial pitted the prosecution’s version of events that spanned a period of years against the defense’s contention that he was the target of lies.
“This defendant is an opportunistic predator,” Pitts said in her closing argument to the jury. “He openly and brazenly and repeatedly (molested) young, innocent children.”
Amparito Arriaga, the West Chester attorney representing the defendant, had pointed out inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case, including an investigation by county child welfare authorities and New Garden police in 2008 that failed to result in any charges.
In her plea for leniency in the sentencing, Arriaga argued that the prosecution had offered a prison term of 15 years and that a longer sentence would only serve to punish the man for exercising his right to a trial. “This man, from the very first time I met him, has proclaimed his innocence.” With the jury’s verdict, she said, “he has lose his presumption of innocence but not his claim of innocence.”
Pitts, in response, said the man knew that he faced mandatory minimum sentences for the crimes against the children that would total at least 30 years in prison, and chose to force the prosecution to call the girls as witnesses – including the youngest of the victims, now 6 years old. “He knew the risk of going to jail,” she told Gavin.
After the young girl’s allegations to police in July 2011, the man’s two stepdaughters each came forward to tell told police that he had repeatedly molested them at their home.
The women, both now in their 20s, said the molestations occurred between 2001 and 2004 before they turned 13. One said she had tried to tell her mother about what was happening but her mother had dissuaded her from going to police.
“I thought we we’re going to keep this amongst ourselves,” the woman quoted her mother as telling her after the failed investigation by county Children, Youth & Families caseworkers.”
The mother is guilty of child abuse, aiding in child rape, and child neglect…but she won’t ever see the inside of a courtroom, much less a prison cell.