Deer Lodge District Court Judge Ray Dayton imposed the maximum sentence on Friday for an Illinois man who was convicted on three counts of felony sexual intercourse without consent with a girl under the age of 12: 300 years in the Montana State Prison with no chance of parole for 50 years.
A jury found Charles Michael Byrne, 47, of Warren, Illinois, guilty of the charges in December.
At the time of the assaults, the girl's family and Byrne's were very close and did many things together, with Byrne and his wife even occasionally babysitting the girl, according to testimony during the trial.
And it was not the first time Byrne has been in trouble for sexual assault of children. He was previously incarcerated in Illinois for molesting two girls he was also close with.
Byrne did not express emotion as Judge Ray Dayton delivered the sentence.
"I have an absolute conviction in my heart and mind that you are a dangerous man," Dayton told Byrne from the bench. "I think you are very manipulative and a present danger to the community. On three distinctly different occasions, you raped a little girl, and I worry that if you are given a 25-year parole restriction that you will still be a danger to others."
The 25-year parole sentence Dayton referred to is the minimum allowed in the law for each offense.
Dayton sentenced Byrne to three consecutive 100-year sentences with no chance of parole for 50 years on any of the charges. No time was suspended or deferred on any of the sentences.
Byrne will be registered as a tier-two sexual offender, and he was ordered to pay restitution for all counseling and treatment for the victim that exists now and in the future not paid by insurance.
During the sentencing hearing on Friday, the Illinois victims testified separately by video conference about how Byrne's actions have impacted them since they were molested at ages 6 and 8.
In their testimony, they both said Byrne had been a friend of their families and that they had trusted him. They both said they didn't tell anyone about his actions for a long time because they were afraid. Both said after his assault they could no longer trust men, even their fathers, brothers, or other male family members.
They said they were terrified when Byrne was released on parole.
Montana Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Officer Jacob Miller prepared the pre-sentence report and told the court that Byrne denied the offenses of the past and continues to deny all charges in this current case. Miller stressed the importance of Byrne completing phase one and two of intensive sex offender treatment before any consideration for parole.
The young Deer Lodge victim read a statement to the court thanking her mother and older brother for supporting her through her experience.
"He (Byrne) betrayed me and everyone else," she said. "He invaded me in my house, the safest place I should be. I have terrifying nightmares and have had a lot of counseling to be more comfortable in myself. I don't want him to do anything to others like what he did to me."
The girl stated that thousands of sexual assaults — an estimated three out of every four — are not reported each year and that it is important to listen to people who do come forward.
"I believe he (Byrne) should be incarcerated so he can't take something precious from someone else," she said.
Powell County Deputy Attorney Patrick Moody addressed the severity of Byrne's crimes in his closing arguments.
"There are lines we do not cross," Moody said. "They are very egregious crimes – homicide, slavery, and child molestation – and there must be severe consequences. Child molestation is not a simple occasion victims can get past and move on.
"Byrne molested three girls ages 6, 8, and 9 after he manipulated and groomed them and their families so they trusted him and the girls could not fight back," Moody continued. "They were the most vulnerable in society, and now the victims do not trust people any more, their relationships are damaged forever, and (their) families do not know what to say. He is a serial child molester, convicted five times, with indications there are others, and there is no indication he will stop. He is dangerous."
Byrne did not testify.
After court recessed, Moody said, "I have infinite admiration for the victim and her family. It has been a long and difficult process. Justice has been done."