A 28-year-old Butte man accused of fondling a 15-year-old girl and seeking more sexual encounters apologized Thursday before a judge sentenced him to eight years at the Montana State Prison.
“I’ve had time to reflect on my crime and I regret everything,” Brandon Eaton told District Judge Kurt Krueger. “If I could redo everything starting from the past I would, starting with what I did to the victim.”
Eaton pleaded guilty to sexual assault in July, admitting he fondled the girl’s breasts in his car in early September 2020. Because the victim was under 16 and he was more than four years older, he could have been sentenced up to 100 years in prison.
Defense attorney Daniel Biddulph asked for five years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, with 15 years suspended, saying Eaton was a low risk to reoffend and would get more help in a DOC program than behind bars in Deer Lodge.
Forensic psychologist Christopher Quigley agreed with that, saying Eaton had learning disabilities, was immature for his age and would be bullied and preyed upon in prison.
Prosecutor Samm Cox asked for a 10-year prison term with 10 more suspended, saying Eaton was a father of three who was also raising a fourth child when the crimes occurred.
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But he had admitted, Cox said, “to engaging in sexual contact with a 15-year-old himself, who is unrelated, and during the course of that offered money and drugs to this child so he could perform sexual acts on her after the original sexual acts.”
Krueger often makes statements to defendants during sentencing hearings, but on Thursday, simply said he was imposing a 20-year prison term with 12 of those years suspended.
The case stems from a “cybertip” to police about private Facebook messages indicating that a 27-year-old man was enticing a 15-year-old girl to engage in sexual activity in exchange for “money, goods or services.”
Butte police got search warrants to access the information from Facebook and Google and tied the messages to Eaton.
In them, he asks the girl repeatedly if she enjoyed the sexual contact they had and talks of additional sexual acts he would get for $100. He also says he will get her some marijuana, according to charging documents.
When questioned by police, he first denied any wrongdoing but later admitted to fondling her breasts. He said he thought she was 17.