A Hays judge earlier this month denied a request for a departure from the standard prison sentence for a Hays woman convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old boy in a youth mental health facility but agreed to decrease the time she would have to register as a sexual offender.
After a four-hour plea and sentencing hearing April 2 in Ellis County District Court in which the mother of the victim was among the witnesses, Skylar Henson, 22, was sentenced to 59 months in prison for each conviction of aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated indecent liberties with a minor.
She will also serve a 15-month sentence for distribution of a hallucinogenic for providing marijuana to the 14-year-old. The sentences will be served concurrently.
She pleaded guilty to the charges in an agreement with the Ellis County Attorney’s Office. A charge of aggravated indecent liberties with a minor was dismissed as part of the agreement.
Henson is now an inmate at Topeka Correctional Facility, according to the Kansas Adult Supervised Population Electronic Repository.
Upon release, she will have to register as a sexual offender and be under post-release supervision for 25 years.
The Hays Daily News was not at the April 2 hearing due to other commitments but was provided a partial transcript by Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees. The names of the victim and his mother were redacted in the transcript.
According to the transcript, Braun outlined the mitigating factors set out by state statute that allow a judge to depart from sentencing guidelines.
Those factors include if the victim was an aggressor, if the offender played a minor role or suffered a pattern of physical abuse from the victim, or if the defendant cooperated with law enforcement.
Braun noted there are also aggravating factors a judge can consider that would allow the judge to increase the penalty, such as the age, mental or physical capacity of the victim, or if the offense included a fiduciary relationship — one where the offender has a position of trust with the victim.
Henson was an employee of KVC Wheatland Hospital in Hays, where the victim was a patient. According to court documents, Henson engaged in a sexual relationship with the boy and brought him marijuana brownies.
Henson told another KVC staff member about the relationship knowing it would be reported to her supervisor and cooperated with the investigation.
Taking the stand during the hearing, Henson testified she had been sexually molested as a child. While she said that affected her actions, she agreed it did not justify her relationship with the boy at KVC.
During her questioning, attorney Olavee Raub asked Henson why she was crying.
“Are you crying because you might go to prison, or are you crying because you understand the impact of what you’ve done? Or both?” Raub asked.
“In all honesty, I’m not scared to go to prison,” Henson said. “I know that the Lord turns evil into good, and I know that there’s so much that he can do through me going there.
“I am crying because there’s so many people in this court that love me and that trusted me, and I hurt them and I caused pain. I caused the same pain that happened to me. I am crying because I’m so embarrassed and I am so ashamed that the same pain my parents felt two weeks ago when I told them what happened to me when I was little, (the victim’s) mom is feeling that. (The victim) is feeling what I felt, and I did that,” she said.
In supporting the motion for a downward departure, Raub said the relationship was not begun for sexual contact and cited Henson’s cooperation, lack of a criminal record, lack of violations while under court supervision and voluntarily seeking counseling. She proposed a 24-month sentence.
Braun stuck with the standard sentencing, however, and cited a prior case.
In the 2014 case State v. Theurer, a young man driving drunk killed two people when he struck their vehicle head-on in Riley County.
While the circumstances were different, Braun noted the similarities to Henson’s case — the defendant had no prior criminal history, a supportive family, good employment and educational record, and took voluntary rehabilitation efforts.
The judge in the case departed from standard sentencing, but that was reversed on appeal. Braun quoted from the appellate opinion written by Judge Michael Buser.
“Judge Buser made this comment, that the court places particular emphasis on and it’s this: ‘The sentencing guidelines would mean little if the punishment did not fit the crime,’ ” Braun said.
Braun also referred to the position of trust Henson was in with her job at the mental health hospital.
“Teachers, coaches, school counselors all have enhanced penalties because they occupy a position of trust with the people that they then victimize.
“Society has recognized that when people like this defendant occupy that position of trust with young individuals who are vulnerable and susceptible, that we hold them to a higher standard,” Braun said.
“That’s not me that does that, not the man sitting here in the black robe at this bench. That’s what the Legislature says that’s what society mandates. That’s what called for in these circumstances,” he said.
In imposing the standard sentence, Braun noted that in sexual abuse cases, Drees rarely agrees to concurrent sentences as was agreed to in the plea. In agreeing to abide by that, Braun said he was also compelled by testimony from the mother of the victim.
“She showed compassion for you … in spite of the hurt and pain she is suffering from because what was done to her little boy,” Braun said.
“I expected her to say ‘Judge, throw the book at her, lock her up for as long as you can.’ But she didn’t,” Braun said.