Child molester's lenient sentence overturned on appeal

·2 min read

Sep. 14—The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ordered that a Waseca child molester be sent to prison.

A Waseca County District judge sentenced Timothy John Wright, 40, to time served and probation in December after he pleaded guilty to felony criminal sexual conduct.

A Court of Appeals panel issued a decision Monday that Wright should have been sentenced to a net of nearly nine years in prison as prescribed in sentencing guidelines.

Wright was taken into custody, and Judge Carol Hanks ordered the new sentence on Tuesday.

Wright was charged in June after a 16-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl reported he had been sexually abusing them for multiple years. The abuse started when they were 7 or 8 years old, the charges said.

Wright pleaded guilty to one felony charge in October. Sentencing guidelines suggested a 168-month prison sentence. That would mean nearly nine years actually spent in prison after credit for six months already served in jail, and because the final third of prison sentences are served on supervised release.

But Hanks agreed to the defense's request to stay the prison sentence, meaning he wouldn't serve any more time behind bars if he got sex offender treatment and followed other probation conditions.

Waseca County Attorney Rachel Cornelius said she was "shocked" by the stayed sentence and appealed it.

"I have never appealed an order from the court before, as I generally agree with the court's decisions," she said. "However, this was very frustrating, and I felt (it) needed to be addressed by the Court of Appeals."

The appeals court agreed with Cornelius that the judge should not have deviated from the sentencing guidelines.

"We conclude the district court failed to identify substantial and compelling reasons to depart," the ruling states.

Hanks cited factors including Wright's lack of any prior criminal history, his statement of remorse, and that he met with a counselor while in jail. The judge also noted Hanks could work and financially support his seven children if he was not in prison.

But the appeals court cast doubt on those findings or found them insufficient grounds for a lighter sentence.

"The district court did not sufficiently distinguish Wright from most other offenders, and the record does not support departure," the ruling states.

Cornelius said she "spent countless hours" on the appeal and is pleased with the outcome.

"I feel that justice has been served and the victims can finally have the closure they deserve," she said. "The public can also be relieved in knowing a predator is off the street and will be doing sex offender treatment in prison."

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