A judge sentenced a young Butte man to three years in custody of prison officials Wednesday for forcing a 15-year-old girl to have sex, and told the defendant he faced years behind bars if he violates terms of a “12-year tail” of probation.
If he did that, District Judge Robert Whelan told Trey Daniel Bennett, “You can pretty much bank on spending the rest of that time incarcerated.”
Bennett had previously dated the girl and told police they had sex regularly but she said he forced himself on her twice in October 2019. He had turned 18 about a month earlier.
He later admitted having sex with the girl without her consent and pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse without consent. Prosecutors could have filed the charge regardless because under Montana law, a person under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex.
In this case, he could have been sentenced up to 20 years in prison.
But Whelan went along with prosecutor recommendations that Bennett, who is now 19, be sentenced to the Montana Department of Corrections for 15 years, with 12 of those years suspended.
He must register as a sex offender when released from direct DOC custody and must abide by numerous probation terms. Among other things, he is barred from associating with those under age 18 unless they are family.
Bennett’s attorney, Andrew Jenks, presented testimony Wednesday that his client and the girl had dated for nearly two years and he sometimes stayed with her at her parent’s house. A female friend of Bennett’s also said he had never acted inappropriately around her.
But Ann Shea, the chief prosecutor in the case, said none of that mattered.
“This has nothing to do with the fact they dated a long time,” she told Whelan during Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. “His life is going to change and it should change. He forced a young woman — a girl — to have sex against her will.”
Jenks asked that all 15 years be suspended, noting his client had no previous criminal history, was a young man, and must register as a sex offender and face probation supervision.
“This conviction will stay with him and affect his way of life,” he said.
Shea balked at that.
“The impact on her life is forever,” she said. “We can’t forget the victim in this case. His life is changing because of his actions and no one else’s. Her life is changed because of his actions.”
Whelan said Bennett, in a presentence investigation, was toward the lower end of a scale that gauges risks to reoffend. If not for that, he said, “You would be spending many, many years (in prison) for what has transpired.”