A Natrona County judge on Thursday sentenced a local man to 48 to 60 years in prison for molesting two mentally disabled women while he worked at a local group home and, in a separate attack, sexually abusing a teenage girl.
The sentence, issued by Judge Catherine Wilking, is toward the more punitive outcomes possible in a three-felony plea agreement between Trae D. Smith and prosecutors. Wilking ordered Smith serve eight to 10 years on a single count of abuse of a vulnerable adult, 40 to 50 years on a count of first-degree sexual assault and 18 to 20 years on a count of second-degree sexual abuse.
The latter two sentences will run at the same time, which was one of the terms of the plea deal Smith struck earlier this year. And although he pleaded guilty to all three crimes, he entered the sexual abuse plea under the Alford process, which allows him to plead guilty but maintain his innocence by only acknowledging that prosecutors could likely prove his guilt to a jury.
On Thursday morning, before lawyers made sentencing arguments to the judge, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri called the parents of one of the abused women to speak.
That abuse, prosecutors have said, Smith perpetrated while he worked at All About Family, a local group home. He recorded video footage while touching the two women’s gentials, prosecutors say. The women are non-verbal and police only found the videos while investigating child abuse.
The woman’s mother on Thursday told Wilking that Smith — who sat in jail garb a dozen feet away — betrayed the trust the two women put in him. She said both women now have trouble sleeping.
Her daughter doesn’t smile anymore, the mother said. If she wants to smile, she instead uses sign language to say so.
The woman’s father then spoke, echoing his wife’s request for the maximum possible punishment.
“I want you to die in prison,” he said. “That is how badly you have hurt me and everyone who knows you.”
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The girl whom Smith abused then walked to the lectern. Standing next to her mother, and with two supporters behind her, she said that Smith’s attack led her to withdraw from family.
“I’m disgusted with what he did,” the girl told Wilking. “And I hope he’ll never do it again.”
After the girl’s mother spoke briefly, Taheri asked Wilking to sentence Smith to a total of 50 to 60 years in prison. His argument largely deferred to the victim’s statements, but also noted that Smith abused people who were all vulnerable.
Joe Hampton, the court-appointed defense attorney representing Smith, then asked Wilking to sentence Smith to at least 24 years in prison. He left the high end of that sentence up to the judge, acknowledging that she may want to structure the sentence so Smith would stay on parole for an extended period of time.
Smith’s parents then both spoke; his mother told the judge that she did not think he committed the crimes. She insinuated that Smith had been framed by prosecutors.
Smith’s father then apologized to the victims in the courtroom on behalf of his son. He said his son had a serious drug problem and implied that Smith had abused the women and child as the result of his drug use.
Smith then told the judge that he knows what he did was wrong but asked for a second chance. He said he did not know why he abused the women.
Wilking sentenced Smith to the prison time, saying that he chose victims based on their vulnerability. She considers him dangerous, the judge said.
As Smith walked through a side door, his head down, the courtroom audience of 29 diminished to five. The judge called the next case.