"I've been working on sex offender management and sentencing in this state since I was 18 years old -- two years after Ryan was killed. This is not the way we do things here. This is horrible."
Those words were sent to me from a man who knows the pain of "horrible." Derek VanLuchene's brother was allegedly kidnapped, raped and murdered by a repeat sex offender in Montana back in 1987. Little Ryan was just 8 years old. Derek, a veteran law enforcement officer, started the group "Ryan United" to fight for victims of sex offenders and he is fed up. This is why:
I've already told you about the judge who let a Montana school teacher/rapist off scot free. But upon further investigation, there is another case in Montana that bears watching as well. And by no means am I simply picking on Montana. These travesties happen every day -- but this month it seems that if you're a sex offender, Montana is the place to hone your craft.
There has been protesting in the small town of Kalispell. They marched down South Main Street asking -- indeed, begging -- for someone to listen. They're asking for justice. They're asking that when a judge reviews the plea deal today in the case of a man accused of raping a child -- he will side with the victim and the perpetrator.
The community is upset about the plea deal for Theodore "Ted" Ramon, a man charged initially with three counts of felony sexual abuse. He took a plea deal, in which two of the charges were dropped, and he plead no contest to the third.
Court records show that in 2011 Ramon was charged with felony sexual abuse of a child after a 10-year-old girl's mother called authorities with reports that her daughter had been abused. The little girl told cops she visited Ramon's "print studio" and he showed her pornographic movies while taking photos of her in sexual poses and touching her. Court documents also show the man offered the girl cigars, drugs and booze. She was 8 at the time. He was 51.
Ramon initially pleaded not guilty to the three felony charges in 2011, but changed his plea to go with the deal. In exchange for dropping two of the felony charges, Ramon pleaded no contest to one charge of sexual abuse of children on June 27.
As part of the deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend 15 years in prison, with all of that time suspended.
During my seven years at America's Most Wanted, I saw the ins and outs of law enforcement from behind the lines. We worked hand in hand with cops and prosecutors to bring the bad guys down. I began to understand the challenges prosecutors face when bringing these cases. Re-victimizing the victim by putting them on the stand is always a concern. Doing what's best based on the evidence you have is always the goal and many times that poses a challenge because what one knows in their heart can't always be proven in a court of law.
That said, I continue to maintain we don't do enough for victims of child sex abuse. We don't do enough to the monsters who prey on young children. We give too many second (and third) chances and then we wonder what went wrong.
In the case of Mr. Ramon, he won't spend a day in prison -- unless he messes up again (the thought of which is enough to make your stomach turn).
Prosecutors are recommending a 15-year suspended sentence for the man. Today is sentencing and the sentencing judge is not bound by the plea agreement.
Prosecutors have said there were a number of factors that went into their decision to recommend the suspended sentence including a report from a psychiatrist that found no evidence of deviant sexual preferences in Ramon and calling him a "low risk" to reoffend.
Low risk? How about no-risk? What message does this send to other victims who have the courage to come forward and speak out? What message does this send to the community about how other sex offenders will be treated? Is zero days behind bars a deterrent?
I hope this judge takes a hard look at this plea deal.
In the words of Derek VanLuchene, "This isn't how we want our state to be".
You can see more of my thoughts: