URBANA — A Champaign man convicted of sexually molesting a young girl will spend what amounts to the rest of his life behind bars.
Judge Heidi Ladd on Wednesday sentenced Curtis Hairston to 45 years in prison for the predatory criminal sexual assault of a child who was under the age of 13 when she was molested in 2017.
"This is repugnant, intolerable and goes against all the moral beliefs of a society and will not be tolerated," Ladd told Hairston, 43.
With the requirement that he serve 85 percent of his sentence, the multiple-convicted felon will be eligible for parole when he is 81. He will also have to register as a sex offender for life.
Hairston maintained his innocence.
"I was convicted on false testimony. I'm not guilty and not capable of something like this," Hairston said.
A Champaign County jury convicted Hairston of one count of the Class X felony in late March but acquitted him of a second. His first trial in early March ended in a mistrial when a jury couldn't come to unanimous verdicts.
The child testified in both trials that Hairston repeatedly molested her in her bedroom when her mother was asleep.
She said in one of the attacks between February and July 2017, he held a knife to her throat and threatened to harm her if she told anyone what was going on.
Assistant State's Attorney Sarah Perry recommended 50 years in prison for Hairston, saying the emotional trauma that he caused the girl and her mother, both of whom trusted him, will last the rest of their lives.
Perry said the girl is in counseling and suffers headaches and other physical problems due to the molestation.
"They no longer feel comfortable in their own home," Perry said of the child and her mother.
Public Defender Janie Miller-Jones argued for a sentence near the minimum of the six- to 60-year range for Hairston, saying that he has a GED, was employed steadily for two years prior to his arrest, and maintains contact with his seven children, even though none live with him. While not court-ordered to pay child support to any of their mothers, Hairston said he does financially support his children and talks with them regularly.
"He is maintaining his innocence," Miller-Jones reminded the judge.
Reviewing Hairston's criminal record, Ladd said he had "no significant rehabilitative potential" as demonstrated by his 11 felony convictions, 14 misdemeanor convictions and 54 traffic convictions going back to 1990. She noted he had been sentenced to jail or prison 25 times, including eight times to the Department of Corrections.
Many of those convictions were for resisting a peace officer or aggravated battery to a peace officer, which Ladd said showed his "utter disrespect for the law."
Ladd said there was "profound aggravation" in the facts of the offense for which Hairston was convicted, which involved threatening the child with a serrated kitchen knife as he molested her.
"Her description was chilling, that she could feel the pointy things touching her neck," Ladd recounted.
The knife held to her throat one time effectively caused the child to submit to Hairston on other occasions, the judge said. Ladd said she wanted any appellate justices reviewing the case to know that had she alone been trying the case, she would have come to the same guilty verdict.
"But for this child's courage in coming forward and telling her mother, this might still be going on," she said, adding that she wants the child's family to let the girl know: "This is not her fault."
"She will have to deal with this the rest of her life, but I hope she knows it will not define her."
Hairston, who was arrested in August 2018, was given credit on his sentence for 286 days served.