URBANA — A former Rantoul man whose convictions and life sentence for sexually molesting two young girls were overturned by an appeals court has pleaded guilty to one of those crimes for a significantly reduced prison sentence.
Larry Hayden, 54, pleaded guilty Friday before Judge Jason Bohm to a single count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child for an act he committed in April 2015 with a young girl. A second count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child with a different girl was dismissed. Also dismissed was a less serious charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
As a result of an agreement worked out by Assistant State’s Attorney Troy Lozar and Hayden’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ben Dyer, Hayden was sentenced to 12½ years in prison, with credit for 4½ years already served.
Lozar prosecuted Hayden in 2015 and was prepared to retry Hayden’s case this week before Bohm.
Hayden was charged in July 2015 with sexually molesting one girl in 2012 and another in April 2015. Both girls were under 13 and lived in the same Rantoul neighborhood as Hayden. The girl from the 2012 incident came forward to Rantoul police after learning of the other incident.
As Hayden was about to be tried by a jury in November 2015, his public defender at the time, Jamie Propps, asked Judge Tom Difanis to sever the counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, arguing that the fact that Hayden was charged with two acts involving different girls at different times would prejudice the jury.
Difanis declined to do that, the case went forward, and the jury convicted Hayden of both Class X felonies. Because there were two victims, the law mandated that Hayden be sentenced to natural life in prison.
Hayden appealed, arguing he should have had separate trials on the two counts. The Fourth District Appellate Court agreed and sent the case back to Champaign County in late June. Bohm was assigned to hear it.
Lozar said he was prepared to try the predatory criminal sexual assault counts one at a time with the girls, who are both now teens and were ready to testify.
But Lozar said faced with the facts he had, he agreed to the guilty plea to ensure that Hayden would be convicted.
“Each child reports a single incident of digital contact by the defendant. In each case, there was a substantially delayed report, in one case as much as three years. There was no corroborating physical evidence at all. There were no adult witnesses or no other direct witnesses. The facts of what happened relied solely on the children,” said Lozar, a veteran prosecutor who said he has seen juries go both ways in cases with similar circumstances.
Given the burden on the victims to carry the cases, Hayden’s minimal criminal background (theft and disorderly conduct), the fact that he will be a Class X felon who has to register for life as a sex offender, and that he will be over 60 and the victims well into their 20s when he is released, Lozar said he agreed to the plea deal.
"The case was one where a jury listening to those facts could quite reasonably have acquitted him,” Lozar said.
Lozar said the victims and their families were consulted about the plea agreement and “we were all in accord.”
“If we hadn’t been able to come to something we could all agree on, I was ready to try the case again,” he said.
Lozar said the life sentence was imposed by Difanis because the Legislature mandated it and was not necessarily what he might have sentenced Hayden to if left to his own discretion.