Andrew Bennett had essentially been closed off from the world since about third grade, kept in close quarters with a person he was “enticed” to abuse, attorneys said Monday, when District Judge Keri Yoder asked them to justify his plea agreement.
Bennett was arrested last year, after a friend in Canada reported to police that Bennett, then 18, had disclosed abusing a child. Bennett subsequently admitted to the abuse, police said.
Initially charged with sexual assault on a child under 10, Bennett pleaded guilty to negligently causing serious bodily injury to a child, with an underlying sexual basis, and to unlawful sexual contact-no consent.
His plea deal called for four years of supervised probation as a condition of a four-year deferred judgement on the injury charge; Bennett will avoid conviction if he completes the terms of his sentence. The deferral does not apply to his plea to unlawful sexual contact, a class-1 misdemeanor.
Yoder on Monday said she was “pretty concerned” with what she read in a pre-sentence investigation report. The judge also later noted that she has sentenced others to prison terms for similar conduct. She asked prosecutors to explain why Bennett was offered a plea deal for probation.
Bennett’s home life was part of the reason, Deputy District Attorney Aubrey Thompson said. She said Bennett was removed from school in the third grade and kept fairly isolated from the world, along with other children in his home. “These kids are held in their home. They’re not taken out in public,” she said, going on to talk of “play” with other children in the home that was described as “inappropriate.”
“Unfortunately, we had a child in a home … stuck, with people he was enticed to touch,” Thompson said.
Bennett, however, had choices and chose to commit a crime, she added. The plea deal was brokered to reflect both that and his home life.
Public defender Kori Zapletal said that when Bennett disclosed his conduct to his online friend, he had been reaching out for help. “He too was a victim. His development is stalled at a younger age,” she said.
The court should treat him more as a juvenile by focusing on rehabilitation, Zapletal also said.
During sentencing argument, Thompson asked for 90 days in jail, to be served immediately.
“This is a child,” she said of the victim, adding the young girl had no chance. “This is how her life started and something she will live with for the rest of her life,” Thompson said.
The DDA also made a case for intensive supervised sex offender treatment and probation, saying Bennett had endorsed some myths surrounding sexually based crimes.
But Zapletal said her young client had put an end to the abuse by reaching out for help. Since he was charged and released on bail, Bennett has been seeking help and was ready early on for treatment, she said.
“He wants to be able to move on from this and wants (victim) to be able to move on as well. He is extremely remorseful,” Zapletal said, adding that Bennett does not blame the victim for his own conduct.
Since being released on bail, Bennett has lived with relatives and is working on his general equivalency diploma; he also has a job.
Because he is so concerned about abiding by court orders, the life he is living is already “akin to in-home detention,” Zapletal said, arguing for more of a community-based sentence and against any jail time as a condition of his deferred judgment.
No one spoke directly for the victim when Yoder asked if there was anyone planning to make a statement. Prosecutors said they satisfied requirements of the Victim Rights Act by discussing the agreement with the Department of Human Services.
Bennett declined to make a direct statement.
“You’ve had a very difficult run here,” Yoder said. “It sounds horrific, actually. But what you did was also horrific. … This is extremely aggravating behavior.”
His motivation to change set his case somewhat apart from similar cases over which she has presided and handed down prison sentences, Yoder said. His behavior, still, “permanently harmed” the young victim.
The judge found especially concerning “the fact this started while she was so little and was normalized.” She added that Bennett was “a victim in ways we don’t usually see,” and accepted the plea agreement.
Bennett must complete four years on supervised probation. Yoder sentenced him to serve 90 days in jail, as requested by the prosecution; she also ordered him to complete 100 hours of useful public service.
Bennett must maintain his mental health counseling and complete sex offender specific intensive supervised probation.
He cannot have internet access without specific approval; cannot have explicit or sexually arousing material and cannot patronize businesses that offer such goods or services.
Bennett must register as a sex offender, complete specific treatment and cannot have contact with anyone under 18, without specific approval.
“I want you to take care of yourself as well,” Yoder told Bennet. “I don’t want to hear about you hurting yourself. We’re not saying you’re a worthless person. … You’ll have a lot to do.”