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Jarad Gearhart

Jarad Gearhart

The girl spoke quietly but confidently about the sexual abuse she had endured.

Even as the man convicted of committing the offenses sat only feet away, watching her. Even as the man’s mother and close friends — who had come to court to defend his character — sat listening in the back of the courtroom.

In a few short sentences, the teen told the judge how Jarad Gearhart’s abuse had affected her.

“It’s messed with my head,” the girl said, her voice unwavering. “It’s made very rough times for me.”

Despite the testimony of family and friends, which painted Gearhart as a respectful family man, Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey rejected the recommendation of the man’s attorney that he be sentenced to probation and sentenced Gearhart to between 26 and 36 years in prison for sexually abusing the girl, who was not yet 13 years old at the time.

Gearhart, 34, previously pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor for forcing the girl, who is a relative, to perform oral sex on him in his Bar Nunn home. Gearhart admitted to the acts in his first interview with investigators in September.

The girl also spoke briefly to the judge. She said that the abuse had deeply affected her and that she had a strong support network.

Gearhart’s mother as well as three close friends told the judge that the abuse was out of character for the man they knew.

His mother described him as a hardworking and respectful person who had been raised to be moral and loved his family.

“This is just not typical of his characteristics, of the way he was raised,” she said.

In contrast, Assistant District Attorney Brett Johnson described Gearhart as a man who took advantage of a girl who was struggling.

“Like all of the cases, the closer you look at this case, the more troublesome it becomes,” he said.

He said the girl went to live with Gearhart because she was experiencing mental health issues and conflict with other members of her family. Then, according to Johnson, Gearhart took advantage of the girl’s vulnerability.

He said that the information in the arrest affidavit — written based on the girl’s initial report and an interview with Gearhart — made it seem as if the sexual activity were partially the girl’s idea.

“It almost makes it sound like it was the victim’s idea,” he said. “It was not the victim’s idea.”

Instead, Johnson said that the girl told her interviewer at the Children’s Advocacy Project that she was afraid during the abuse.

He recommended that Forgey sentence Gearhart to between 35 and 50 years in prison.

Gearhart’s attorney, public defender Kurt Infanger, preceded his recommendations by noting the difficult balance a defense attorney must strike between arguing on his client’s behalf without making excuses for the crime that was committed.

“There is a fine line, your honor, between mitigation and minimization,” he said.

Infanger noted that Gearhart took responsibility for the crimes beginning in his first interview with investigators from the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office.

He also noted that his client had only one prior conviction for a misdemeanor battery charge in 2009.

“This seems so out of character for Mr. Gearhart that you have to wonder: What the heck happened?” Infanger said.

He noted that the abuse was “horrendous” and that there should be consequences but also said that one event shouldn’t define an individual’s entire life.

He recommended that Forgey sentence Gearhart to a period of lengthy, intensive probation, as was recommended by the state’s probation and parole program in its report to the court.

“This is an isolated incident,” Infanger said while explaining the report’s finding that Gearhart was at a low risk for re-offending.

In a brief statement before Forgey handed down his sentence, Gearhart told the judge that he’s spent several sleepless nights thinking about the consequences of the crime he committed and how he’s hurt those around him, including the victim.

He said that he wanted a chance to start over and “be a member of the community again.”

As part of his sentence, Gearhart will also have to pay about $9,000 in restitution to the victim.

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Follow crime and courts reporter Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

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