Husband gets 20 years, wife admits role in sex assault of preteen girl

Husband gets 20 years, wife admits role in sex assault of preteen girl

URBANA — A man who spent a week engaged in sex acts with a preteen staying in the same house as he was has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Joshua Stephen, 31, of Normal will have to serve at least 17 years of that sentence.

"The circumstances surrounding the offense are outrageous," said Judge Tom Difanis, who last month accepted Stephen's guilty plea to predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, a crime that carries punishment of up to 60 years in prison.

Stephen admitted that between Dec. 28 and Jan. 8, he engaged in sex with a girl under the age of 13 who was visiting a relative living in the same Rantoul house where Stephen and his wife, Shelby Stephen, were staying.

Shelby Stephen, 21, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a less-serious charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, admitting that she participated in some sexual contact with the child and her husband during the same time.

The matter came to light after the girl, who lives in another city, returned home after the holiday break and her mother found texts on her phone suggesting there had been contact between her daughter and Joshua Stephen.

Rantoul police investigated, leading to the arrest of the husband and wife in late February.

Assistant Public Defender George Vargas called Stephen's mother to testify. She said her son was very sick the first year of his life, which stunted his growth.

She said the family learned he had been molested as a young child, for which he received counseling. She described her son as socially immature and suffering from anxiety but said he now has two young daughters and is a very hard worker.

"Our whole family stands behind him. We are shocked. I do not believe this is who he is," she said, calling the aberrant behavior "isolated."

Arguing for the 25 years in prison he had agreed to, Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar stressed that Stephen engaged in a series of sexual encounters with the girl and that it was wrong to characterize his behavior as "isolated."

He also said Stephen was well aware of the girl's age.

"It's frightening that at no point during the course of the week that no one, including the defendant, said: 'Maybe this is wrong to have sex with a'" child, Lozar argued.

Vargas reminded Difanis that Stephen took responsibility for his conduct by pleading guilty and that he was not acting alone.

"Look at the exposure of the co-defendant, who is just as guilty," he said.

Shelby Stephen faces penalties ranging from probation to three to seven years in prison when Difanis sentences her July 31.

Joshua Stephen told the judge he loved his family and has been engaging in self-help while in jail. But he acknowledged he needs more help.

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