We’re getting some pretty ticked-off reader comments on the Missoulian website about a couple of sentencings yesterday, both of them involving sexual assault cases.In one case, District Court Judge Doug Harkin gave a suspended sentence to James Lee Burns, who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a teenage girl over several years. In the other, a deferred sentence was revoked – also by Harkin – because Daniel Tudahl was arrested on a DUI charge in Bozeman last January. A year ago, Tudahl pleaded no contest in a case that combined separate accusations by two women that he assaulted them after they fell asleep.
Some of our readers – at least the ones who went online to comment, and also one who called – seem to feel that these guys got off easy.
Here’s the deal. In the case of Burns, who owns Painless Steel tattoo shop, his being out of jail means he can continue to earn enough money to pay $39,000 in court-ordered restitution for counseling over the next five years for his victim. That means taxpayers won’t be footing the bill (nor the prison costs) for the horrendous psychological damage Burns caused. At least as important, his victim agreed to the arrangement after consulting with both the Missoula County Attorney’s Office and the Crime Victims Advocate.
And in the case involving Tudahl, relatives of one victim viewed the new terms as a victory of sorts. Now, if Tudahl runs afoul of conditions set for him, he’ll go to prison.
In each case, the defense attorney sought a deferred sentence, meaning that once the terms and conditions were met, the case would be erased. But Harkin rejected those requests in favor of suspended sentences, meaning that each man is forever identified as a felon.
Is that getting off easy? The victims didn’t seem to think so.
One thing for sure: The complexity of such decisions makes me really glad I’m not a judge.