Archive for Thursday, January 22, 2004

Sentences in rape case spark concern

Douglas County district attorney to appeal Tonganoxie man’s sentence

January 22, 2004

A Douglas County prosecutor vows she'll appeal sentences a judge handed down to two defendants in a rape case.

One of the defendants is Brian K. Ussery, 19, Tonganoxie.

Last Friday, Ussery was sentenced to a 60-day jail term and five years of probation for raping an intoxicated 13-year-old Lawrence girl.

The presumed penalty for rape under state law is at least 13 years in prison.

But Douglas County District Judge Paula Martin lightened Ussery's sentence, in part because she found that the victim -- who was so drunk in the moments before the rape that she couldn't walk up a flight of steps -- was an "active participant."

Martin also said that, because there was no use of force or threats, the harm the girl suffered was less than that suffered by some rape victims.

Advocates for victims of rape were dejected following Martin's ruling.

"We're just deflated," said Sarah Jane Russell, executive director of Rape Victim Survivor Service. "We need to regroup and think about how we can have an effect on the judicial system in a positive, proactive way."

Having sex with someone younger than 14 is classified as rape under Kansas law, regardless of other circumstances. The law also defines rape as having sex with someone who can't give consent because of the effects of alcohol.

A week ago, Martin handed down a similar sentence to a co-defendant in the case, 19-year-old William N. Haney of Lawrence, who also got probation and 60 days in jail.

In both cases, Martin granted defense attorneys' requests for exceptions to state sentencing guidelines.

Christine Kenney, district attorney, said she plans to appeal both sentences.

"We feel very strongly that the underlying facts of this case warranted a more serious penalty," Kenney said. "Being 13 and being under the influence of an intoxicant -- in our opinion, that is clearly an individual that the laws were designed to protect."

Juries convicted both Ussery and Haney of having sex with the girl early on June 14 at an apartment in central Lawrence. Another defendant, 18-year-old Dana S. Jackson, who was a juvenile at the time of the incident, was sentenced to 30 months in custody after pleading guilty to attempted rape.

A fourth defendant, a 28-year-old Lawrence man, was sent to Larned State Security Hospital for an evaluation.

The girl's mother stood up in court Friday and read a letter written by the girl to Ussery.

"You've made my life as horrible as possible," the letter said. "You took away my innocence."

The mother said that since the rape, she's seen three of the defendants in public going on with their lives "as if nothing has happened."

As she sentenced Ussery, Martin said, she considered factors including the girl's participation, the co-defendants' sentences and Ussery's lack of a criminal background.

"This appears to the court to be a context-specific incident that is not likely to recur," she said.

Technically, Martin sentenced Ussery to 30 months in prison with a three-year-period of post-release supervision. She then suspended the sentence and ordered Ussery to serve a probation term of five years and to serve 60 days in jail as a condition of probation.

He also must write a letter of apology, complete 500 hours of community service and undergo a therapy program and drug-and-alcohol evaluation.

He'll face prison time, only if he fails to abide the terms of his probation.

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