1.25.2008

ER - Molestation trial ends in plea agreement

Molestation trial ends in plea agreement

By EMILY WILSON, The Eureka Reporter
Published: Jan 24 2008, 10:04 PM

The child molestation trial that began Tuesday in the Humboldt County Courthouse was over mid-morning on Thursday as both parties entered into a plea agreement.

Judge Marilyn B. Miles dismissed the 12-member jury and thanked them for their civic duty.

The defendant, William Joseph Lenard, 52, was charged with 19 felony counts of child molestation. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14.

The agreement came as a surprise to Lenard’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jonathan McCrone. “We thought we’d be here for three weeks,” he said.

Deputy District Attorney Kelly Neel spent about an hour coaxing a single answer out of the victim. “What happened to you in July 2006 in Lenard’s trailer?” she asked the victim repeatedly.

The victim couldn’t bring herself to answer. “This little girl very much wanted to testify, but the overwhelming nature of her testimony was too much for her,” Neel said.

“It was a terrible case to deal with for both sides,” McCrone said. “I’ve got a guy who says he’s innocent. And the poor girl ... .”

The counsel had to approach the judge four times to try and decipher what direction to go with a child-victim witness who wasn’t talking.

“It was very intimidating for her,” Neel said.

It’s not uncommon for children to become overwhelmed during their testimony when the perpetrator is sitting in front of them, Neel said.

A 15-minute recess was taken and the victim sat down in the hallway, buried her head in her knees and cried.

By the end of the break, it was all over. Sometimes you have to compromise, Neel said, “the last thing anyone wants to do is re-victimize the victim.”

Lenard will remain in the Humboldt County jail until he is sentenced Feb. 25. In the meantime, the probation department will prepare a pre-sentencing report to assist the judge in assigning an appropriate sentence.

The report will contain a review of Lenard’s mental health and information about prior arrests, work history and family details. Lenard has no prior criminal record.

It is a significant thing to get two felony strikes against someone with no criminal record, Neel said. If Lenard is convicted of one more felony — even of a non-serious or non-violent nature — he will spend 25 years to life in prison, under California’s Three Strikes law.

Lenard will be fined up to $10,000, but it’s unlikely the judge will impose the maximum penalty, Neel said. There may also be a restitution fine of up to $10,000 and a victim restitution fine to reimburse any economic loss.

Lenard faces up to one year in the Humboldt County Jail, but he would get credit for the time he’s spent there since his arrest in September.

Lenard will not go to prison unless he violates his probation by committing a misdemeanor offense. If that occurred he could face up to 10 years in prison and face more fines.

Regardless of any potential jail time, Lenard will be placed on probation for up to 10 years and must register as a sex offender with a local law enforcement agency where he resides.

It’s important for people to understand how brave the victim was to give the testimony that she gave, Neel said, “she should be commended for that.”

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