The mother of a girl whom a Mills man sexually abused over the course of years was not at a loss for words.

Stacked on the podium in front of her were handwritten descriptions of the crimes’ effects. Black ink covered both sides of a half-dozen handwritten pages. But after introducing herself to a Natrona County judge two minutes earlier, the woman only made her way through one sentence.

She sniffled and put a hand to her face.

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri, who prosecuted Jonah J. Decker for sexually abusing the girl, walked to the podium. He and the girl’s mother spoke quietly. Then, he asked Judge Kerri Johnson to read the papers herself.

The judge did so. Minutes later, Johnson ordered Decker serve 15 to 30 years in prison.

In keeping with a newspaper policy that prohibits the identification of sexual abuse survivors without their consent, the Star-Tribune has decided not to publish the woman’s name because it could be used to identify the victim in the case.

Thursday’s proceedings came about three months after Decker pleaded guilty to three felonies as part of an deal with prosecutors. In addition to admitting to two counts of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor, Decker entered an Alford plea to a single count of first-degree sexual abuse. Under an Alford plea, a person pleads guilty but is able to maintain their innocence. Instead of admitting to committing the crime, a person entering an Alford plea acknowledges that prosecutors would likely convict them at trial.

As part of the deal, prosecutors dismissed six other felony counts and agreed to cap their arguments to 20-30 years imprisonment, with all sentences running at the same time.

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At the May hearing, Taheri told Johnson that the victim had said Decker went into her room around Christmas and sexually abused her. Decker wrote an apology letter to the girl saying he was drunk at the time. He did not specify in the letter what he had done, but referenced the girl’s statements to investigators.

At the May hearing, Decker told Johnson he had twice touched the girl through the clothes covering her genitals.

On Thursday, Johnson did not describe the handwritten statements’ contents to the 16 spectators in the courtroom. Once she’d read them, Johnson handed the pages back to Taheri.

The prosecutor asked the judge to sentence Decker to the upper limits mandated by the plea agreement: 20 to 30 years, to run at the same time as two more sentences of 13 to 15 years each.

“There is no way to fix what happened,” Taheri said. “But I do think that in the name of some justice and to protect the community, the sentence is appropriate.”

Court-appointed defense-attorney Tim Cotton then told the judge that Decker had been blacked out drunk when he abused the child. He said Decker should be punished but asked instead for a seven- to 14-year prison term.

Decker spoke briefly before requesting a copy of the written statement. Johnson said Cotton could allow Decker to view it, but not keep a copy.

The judge then handed down the prison sentence, which differed from Taheri’s suggestion by reducing the lower number on the longest term by five years. She said Decker’s alcohol use did not mean he merited a reduced sentence and noted he’d already benefited from reduced sentencing caps by striking a deal with prosecutors.

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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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