Judge who gave Montana man no prison for incest, rape conviction now under fire

HELENA, Mont. (CBS/AP) — An online petition with more than 14,000 signatures calling for the impeachment of a Montana judge over the sentencing of a 40-year-old man to 60 days in jail in an incest case involving a 12-year-old girl has been sent to the state’s governor and other officials.

The man was sentenced to the jail time, plus a 30-year suspended prison term last week as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. The man also was ordered to complete community-based sex-offender treatment and register as a sex offender.

District Judge John McKeon has defended himself against criticism, saying a plea agreement that recommended a 25-year minimum sentence allowed for a lesser one, depending on the results of a psychosexual evaluation. He said that evaluation found the defendant could be safely treated and supervised in the community. McKeon also notes the victim’s mother and grandmother asked that the defendant not be sentenced to prison.

The AP and CBS News are not naming the defendant to avoid identifying the victim.

Originally, Deputy Valley County Attorney Dylan Jensen recommended a 100-year prison sentence with 75 years suspended – as called for in state law – as part of a plea agreement that recommended the dismissal of two other incest charges.

“A father repeatedly raped his 12-year-old daughter,” Jensen said during the Oct. 4 sentencing hearing.

A licensed clinical social worker testified that the man was a low-risk to re-offend and that it would be important for him to have social support while he received treatment. The social worker, Michael Sullivan of Billings, said the man did suffer a “collapse of social support” when he lost his family and job.

Court records said the girl’s mother walked in on one of the sexual assaults.

Public defender Casey Moore argued there was more than one way to hold a person accountable.

“I’m not asking that he be given a slap on the wrist,” Moore said. “He did spend 17 days in jail and he did lose his job,” and will be on supervision for the rest of his life.

McKeon said he diverted from the recommended sentence because the man had support from his family, friends, church and his employer. The girl’s mother and grandmother were reportedly among those supporting a community-based punishment. Someone wrote that “he was a good father for 12 years,” and another said he was not a monster, but a man who had made a mistake.

Jensen said afterwards that he was shocked and disappointed with the sentence, but respected the judge’s decision.

McKeon is retiring soon after 22 years as a state judge.

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