Hailey resident Douglas D. Cooper, 43, was sentenced to between two and 15 years in prison on Thursday for having had sex with a 14-year-old girl whom he met via the Internet.
Cooper pleaded guilty in May to lewd conduct with a minor, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. In exchange for his plea, the prosecution agreed to drop three other related charges, including statutory rape, and recommended a sentence of at least five years of fixed prison time.
The charges stemmed from several sexual encounters that occurred over a three-month period in the spring of 2006.
During a three-hour sentencing hearing in 5th District Court in Hailey, a picture emerged of a man with contradictory attributes¾a lacrosse coach who donated many hours of service to young people in his community, and yet took advantage of a teenage girl's vulnerability to live out his sexual fantasies.
"It is really a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas told Judge John Butler. "Unfortunately for the safety of the community, one never knows which we're dealing with."
Cooper's attorneys, Andrew Parnes and Michael Sherman, requested a sentence of probation and sex-offender treatment, with the case to be re-evaluated by a judge upon completion of the treatment program.
However, Butler said protection of the public was the court's main priority, and that he was basing his sentencing decision partly on Cooper's reluctance to accept sole responsibility for the encounters. Butler acknowledged that the victim had initially told Cooper she was 26 years old, and that she may have shown a willingness to engage in sex, but said he should have walked away once he discovered she was a minor.
The sentence of two years fixed and 13 years indeterminate will include treatment for Cooper's apparent sexual addiction and allow a judge to evaluate its effectiveness in determining when Cooper should be released.
In an interview after the hearing, Thomas said he was pleased with the sentence.
"Judge Butler provided hope for the defendant but forced him to take responsibility for his acts," he said.
Butler ordered that Cooper register as a sex offender upon his release.
The victim attended the hearing accompanied by her parents. Looking delicate and distraught, she gave an approximately five-minute statement frequently made inaudible by sobs. She explained her decision to return to Cooper's house three times after they initially had sex by saying he had apologized to her, that he told her he had lost his job and needed to talk to her and that she feared he might harm her family if she refused to see him.
"I felt trapped and didn't know what to do," she said. "I realize now that I made a mistake by trusting this man. I ask today that you protect me and other young women by putting this man behind bars."
Both of the girl's parents urged the court to hand down a sentence of at least five years fixed, the sentence recommended by the prosecution.
"Cooper stole my daughter's innocence and wreaked havoc on my family," her father said.
Addressing Cooper, the girl's mother said, "You've created a mess, and you won't take responsibility for it. That seems to be a theme in your life. I will be relieved when the judge sends you to prison."
The girl's grandmother told the court that as a result of Cooper's actions her granddaughter was experiencing nightmares and anxiety attacks.
Margie Wilson, a pre-sentence investigator for the Idaho Department of Corrections, told the court that in interviews with a state psychiatrist, Cooper had accepted responsibility for his actions "to a point." Wilson said he admitted he had committed the acts, but blamed the victim for initiating sex and did not show much remorse.
Wilson said there was no evidence Cooper had committed other sex acts with minors or was a violent predator. However, she said a psycho-sexual evaluation indicated he needed "aggressive sex-offender treatment."
Upon questioning by defense attorney Sherman, Wilson said there was no evidence Cooper posed a threat to his two children, ages 10 and 12. However, Thomas pointed out that Cooper had left pornography and sex toys in clear view of the children.
Cooper's sentence includes a $5,000 fine and $5,000 restitution to be paid to the victim.
Near the conclusion of the hearing, Cooper made a four-sentence statement in which he acknowledged having viewed the victim as "the aggressor," but said he, as the adult, was responsible for what happened.
"I was not thinking when this happened," Cooper said. "I can promise you that this had never happened before, and it will never happen again."
As Butler read the prison sentence, Cooper dropped his head into his hands. The only other emotion he revealed was a grim face as two Blaine County sheriff's deputies led him from the courtroom in handcuffs.