Mastermind of nursing-home sex assaults: Man on trial did not take part

Mastermind of nursing-home sex assaults: Man on trial did not take part

URBANA — A Champaign man convicted of masterminding a scheme to sexually molest elderly residents of a Champaign memory-care facility two years ago testified Tuesday that Dontrell Netter did not take part in molesting a 90-year-old woman.

Channing Butler's testimony before a nine-man, three-woman jury is contrary to what he told Champaign police Detective Andre Davis in December 2015 when Davis was investigating allegations of sexual assault against female residents of the memory-care unit at Bickford Cottage, 1002 S. Staley Road, C.

The jury will have to decide Wednesday whether to believe what Butler, 28, of Champaign said on the stand or during a tape-recorded statement he gave Davis two years ago.

Netter, 24, is the last of four men criminally charged with taking part in sex acts with the residents that Butler videotaped. The acts allegedly occurred in the summer of 2015.

Although Champaign police investigated sex acts against three women suffering from dementia, the charges against Netter involve only one woman. She died in late July 2015 within weeks of when police believe the alleged assault happened.

The charges against Netter are aggravated criminal sexual assault, attempted aggravated criminal sexual assault and conspiracy to commit aggravated criminal sexual assault.

Butler is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in July 2016 to solicitation to commit aggravated criminal sexual assault.

Also convicted of attempted aggravated criminal sexual assault for their roles were Trent Warrant, 20, and Dean Goble, 23. Both former Champaign men are serving 10- and 14-year prison terms, respectively.

In opening statements, Assistant State's Attorney Matt Banach told the jurors that Butler, a certified nurse assistant at Bickford, was at the "hub of the activity."

Working alone on the unit at night, "He would entertain himself by inviting other men to come over to Bickford for sex," Banach said.

And after Butler extended such an invitation to Netter via Facebook, he also told Netter, "I got an old lady you can mess with," Banach said.

Netter's attorney, Mike McClellan, urged the jury to listen carefully to Butler, who he said has given contradictory statements about what happened.

And that is precisely what happened Tuesday afternoon when Butler testified.

Butler said he began working at Bickford in 2014 and admitted he lured Netter to the facility on a night in July 2015 by posing as a woman on Facebook who wanted to have sex with Netter.

When Netter arrived and saw Butler was the only person there, Butler said: "I told him, 'I have somebody you can do something with,' and I showed him the lady and he turned me down, and basically, that was it."

Banach then showed Butler a photograph that police retrieved from his cellphone of a man engaged in a sex act with the 90-year-old woman.

Butler admitted that he took the picture and that Netter was present in the room. But Butler said he could not say for certain what man's sex organ was in the photo since the man's face was not shown. He admitted he had invited other men on other occasions to have sex with women there.

Butler said the woman shown in the photo was awake when the activity was going on.

Butler denied to Banach that he and Netter had sex with each other before they went to the woman's room — something he had told Davis in his recorded interview in 2015.

Confronted with his earlier recorded statement to Davis, the soft-spoken Butler admitted making many of the incriminating remarks about Netter to the detective. But on Tuesday, he added that he wasn't sure if he was talking about Netter or one of the other men.

Asked by Banach why he did what he did at Bickford, Butler responded: "I couldn't even tell you. I don't know." Butler had no prior criminal convictions.

On cross-examination, McClellan tried to steer Butler into talking about his activities with the other co-defendants who have already convicted. Judge Tom Difanis agreed with Banach that that information was not relevant to the charges against Netter and shut down that line of questioning.

Butler admitted that he signed a statement that McClellan prepared after an interview with him Oct. 26 in which Butler denied that Netter did anything in the room with the woman.

Earlier Tuesday, the woman's niece, who acted as her caretaker for about a decade, testified that in the year that her aunt lived at Bickford before her death, she was confined to a wheelchair due a hip injury.

In addition to needing help with the activities of daily living, the woman's memory was poor and she was not very communicative, her niece said.

"I thought Bickford was a nicer setting. I thought she needed a place with a memory unit," she said.

The woman testified she visited her aunt for at least 20 minutes a day six days a week, and so was intimately familiar with her abilities.

"There wasn't a lot to say every day. She did not want to leave her room, watch television or socialize," she said of her aunt, who she said once read the daily newspaper cover to cover.

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