Judge refuses to reduce 48-year prison sentence

Judge refuses to reduce 48-year prison sentence

URBANA – A Champaign County judge refused Friday to reduce the 48-year prison sentence of a former Urbana teacher convicted of child molestation.

The lawyer for Jon White, 28, formerly a teacher at Thomas Paine Elementary School in Urbana, argued that Judge Harry Clem relied on incorrect information by a sex offender evaluator about White's risk to reoffend.

Urbana attorney Brett Olmstead also argued that White's sentence was excessive given the circumstances of the crimes and suggested 32 years was more appropriate.

Clem sentenced White in early April on eight counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse to which White pleaded guilty in February. White admitted that he had eight blindfolded girls, about ages 7 to 9, lick sauces off a banana for his own sexual gratification. The acts occurred between August 2005 and December 2006 while White was a second-grade teacher in Urbana.

In rejecting Olmstead's arguments, Clem said the actuarial tools that Olmstead argued were misinterpreted were only a portion of what he had considered.

Clem said he also took into account the number of victims, the length of time White engaged in the aberrant conduct, White's rehabilitative potential, and the need to deter others.

"He built on the start he had in McLean County, he refined his cover story, he lied to co-workers about why children were being sent to his room in the first place, he lied to the children, and he lied to administrators when questioned about these activities," Clem said.

In court Friday were parents of three of the Urbana children as well as White's parents and his wife.

White was also sentenced in McLean County to 12 years in prison, to be served after the 48 years, for acts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse that occurred with two female students in 2004 and 2005 when White was an elementary school teacher in Normal. He also pleaded guilty there. No date has yet been scheduled for his motion to reconsider his McLean County sentence.

Olmstead argued that sex offender evaluator Mike Kleppin of Champaign erred in the way he scored different tests administered to White to determine his risk of reoffending.

In his initial assessment, Kleppin put White at a moderate to high risk to reoffend.

Later, after taking into account different answers to some questions on the tests, Kleppin altered his opinion to say White was at moderate risk to reoffend.

At Friday's hearing, Kleppin was on the stand again for over an hour talking about his interpretation of the tests, which he said were originally designed for sex offenders already in prison but are used on men about to be sentenced "for lack of better tools."

Kleppin stressed the tests were only one component of what he looked at in evaluating White. The bottom line, he said, was that he felt White was "at least a moderate" risk to reoffend.

Olmstead argued 48 years was excessive given that the offenses did not involve actual sexual contact, that White never threatened or intimidated the girls, and that his conduct didn't cause or threaten physical harm.

"The acts were made criminal because of what was in his mind, something they couldn't know," he said of the victims who played White's "tasting game."

Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar called the notion that the acts were not sexual "ridiculous." "By that logic, a person in a coma couldn't be sexually assaulted," he countered. "It's wonderful the kids may not realize what was going on but this was sexual conduct."

Olmstead also argued White did not have any significant criminal history, that he accepted responsibility by pleading guilty, that evidence of psychological harm to the victims is lacking, that they'll be adults long before his sentence is over, that he was remorseful, that he won't ever be able to teach again because he'll have to register as a sex offender for life, and that it's a hardship to his family.

Lozar said the sentence was appropriate given the "extensive planning and deception" White engaged in.

In denying the motion, Clem said White knew the potential penalties when he pleaded guilty. He also declined to compare his sentence to any other sex case involving child victims.

"Teachers should be safeguarding children in their care. They (children) certainly shouldn't be reduced to bit players in someone's sexual fantasies," the judge said.

As for the hardship to White's family, Clem said he had considered what "an absolute and total tragedy" it is for them.

But he said White placed the well-being of his own family beneath his desire to satisfy his sexual urges.

White told the judge he wanted to appeal his sentence. State's Attorney Julia Rietz said she was confident the sentence would be upheld.

White's actions have already spurred several lawsuits against him and the Urbana and McLean county school districts by the parents of the girls. So far, two victims have reached settlements with Urbana District 116 of $390,000 and $300,000 in present-day cash. Another for $250,000 is expected to be approved by a judge later this month.

The way the settlements are structured, the girls may end up receiving more than $1 million each over the course of their lives.

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