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Matthew Rodriguez sentenced

Matthew Joseph Rodriguez, center, listens to District Judge Robert Whelan on Wednesday before the judge sentenced him to 20 years in the Montana State Prison for sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl in Butte. Sitting next to Rodriguez are public defenders Walter Hennessey (left) and Sean Peterson.

Despite a man's pleas for leniency and mercy, a judge sentenced him to 20 years in the Montana State Prison on Wednesday for sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl in 2015.

Matthew Joseph Rodriguez, 32, said he took full responsibility for his actions, needed more mental health treatment and told District Judge Robert Whelan that he apologized to the victim, the court and the community.

“This was not how I envisioned my life turning out,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know what happened. I am still so sorry.

“I want to get my life back one random act of kindness after another,” he said. “It’s time to turn the page in this story and open a new chapter.”

But Whelan said his taking responsibility “is a far cry” from what he read in a presentence investigation and a psycho-sexual evaluation.

“I hope you’re sincere,” Whelan told him. “According to the psycho-sexual evaluation you were still (blaming) the 6-year-old girl for this. I think you are a far cry from where you need to be on this.”

Specifically, Whelan went along with a recommendation by Samm Cox, the lead prosecutor in the case, to sentence Rodgriguez to 50 years in the state prison with 30 of those years suspended.

Whelan said Rodriguez will not be eligible for parole until he completes two phases of sex-offender treatment while in prison. Cox said the second phase is especially rigorous.

Cox also said after the hearing that his primary goal in sentencing was to have Rodriguez in prison at least until the girl is an adult. Once out, Rodriguez would still be on probation for the suspended portion of his sentence.

Rodriguez was accused of sexually assaulting the girl in Butte on at least three occasions in 2015. He was initially charged with sexual intercourse without consent but in a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty in October to felony sexual assault.

Both crimes are punishable by life in prison or a term “of not less than four years or more than 100 years" if the victim is less than 16 years old and the offender is four or more years older than the victim, as in Rodriguez's case.

But if someone is convicted of sexual intercourse without consent involving a victim under 12, the first 25 years of the sentence cannot be suspended or deferred and must be served before parole is possible. No such provision exists on the sexual assault charge Rodriguez pleaded guilty to.

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Cox previously said his decision behind the plea deal was to spare the young victim from having to testify in person at trial.

Rodriguez was initially to be sentenced Dec. 19, but he was out on bond and did not appear. He was arrested at an apartment in Great Falls four days later when a woman learned he was wanted. He picked up new charges by swinging and striking police while being placed in custody.

He was transferred back to Butte a short time later to face the more serious charge for sexual assault.

On Wednesday, he told Whelan that he could not change the past but could take positive steps by making amends.

“A 1,000-mile journey starts with the first step,” he said.

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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