LEWISTOWN — Jason Terronez of Lewistown, accused more than six years ago of sexually abusing a 5-year-old girl, was sentenced to probation earlier this month. Judge Randall Spaulding sentenced Terronez, 39 years old, on March 16th, after hearing emotional testimony from the parents of the child victim.
The mother of the child told MTN: “When it first happened I would cry for hours everyday, so would my ex-husband. We were on anti-depressants, I had to take sleeping pills and I had anxiety attacks for the first time in my life. My daughter when it happened would cry for hours every night. Every time we had to go back to court it would open those wounds up again. So I cannot express to you how much it hurts to feel how I feel. My child - not only did I fail my child but the justice system failed my child and it feels like everything we went through was for nothing because she didn’t get justice. She was five years old and she was brave enough to get up in front of a court room full of people and tell her story. It’s not fair.”
She added, "These were people we had been friends with for five years. We spent every holiday with, every Christmas with, birthday parties with. We hung out almost every weekend. These are people that we knew and trusted and he sexually assaulted my daughter during a sleepover.”
She continued, “You want to believe you will get justice and you want to believe in the justice system but now I understand why women who are raped don’t come forward and don’t go through with it. This happens all the time, so what’s the point?”
Fergus County Attorney Kent Sipe said of the sentence: "Mr. Terronez’s decision to abuse a child has destroyed families and irreparably damaged multiple people. He should have been committed to the Department of Corrections.” A probationary sentence for a person who sexually abuses a child is legal under current Montana law. Sipe said that, even though it is legal, judges should not impose such sentences. “Communities rely on judges to hold offenders accountable,” Sipe said. “A probationary sentence does not hold this offender accountable, and it revictimizes the child, her family, and the entire community.”
Justin Jenness, Lewistown Police Chief said, “This case should serve as a prime example of why legislative changes need to be made to ensure justice for the victims and their families of violent crimes. There’s been a push in the last couple legislative sessions to get rid of some the mandatory minimums for crimes or lowering penalties for different crimes, and I think this is kind of one of those areas that I think the state needs to take a stronger stance on making mandatory minimums for child sex crimes so that victims can have justice and the individuals that commit these crimes are held accountable.”
Jenness continued: “Judge Spaulding stated that the sexual abuse of this five-year-old-girl was not a violent crime and it sickened me to hear the judge say that Jason Terronez was not a violent criminal and this was not a violent crime. I think this is a huge injustice to all victims of sexual abuse regardless of their age, but to hear him say that about a five-year-old is sickening. I was disappointed for the victim, disappointed for the family. This individual plead guilty twice, admitted that he did this crime and was not sentenced to prison. He was told that he held the keys to his jail cell and whether or not he went to prison was in his own hands and I don’t think that should be the norm. I think that the judges in the state have a responsibility to hold these child sex offenders accountable."
Sipe agreed with Jenness that the law should be changed to require child offenders to serve time: “Unfortunately, what the court has done is determine that the offender’s rehabilitation trumps the victim’s right to justice,” Sipe said. “Time and again, we have seen courts place child sexual offenders into the community without accountability or punishment. When the public finds out, people are angry, but the judges don’t change. We need to change the law.”