Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Sterling resident Laurel Lee listens during a sentencing hearing Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016 at the Kenai Courthouse in Kenai, Alaska. Lee was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor in May and was sentenced to five years in jail Tuesday.

Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Sterling resident Laurel Lee listens during a sentencing hearing Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016 at the Kenai Courthouse in Kenai, Alaska. Lee was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor in May and was sentenced to five years in jail Tuesday.

Sterling woman gets 5 years for sex abuse of minor

Sterling resident Laurel Lee was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday in the final hearing of a sexual abuse case more than two years old.

Lee, 53, was convicted of one count of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, a class B felony, in May after a six-day trial. She had been accused in October 2014 of pulling a then-14-year-old boy off his bike on the Sterling Highway, dragging him into the woods nearby and forcing oral sex on him.

The jury acquitted Lee on an additional count of kidnapping and a count of first-degree sexual assault. Lee has maintained since shortly after she was charged that she was the one who was sexually abused by the boy, not the other way around. Her defense attorney, Dina Cale, has maintained since the end of trial that the jury’s verdicts were inconsistent because they acquitted Lee of sexual assault, a charge that specifies the act was done without consent, which she said shows the jury rejected the accusation that the incident happened without the minor’s consent.

“The jury’s verdict does not prove factual innocence, it only establishes that the state didn’t prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Assistant District Attorney Kelly Lawson in her sentencing remarks.

After a tense hearing peppered with interruptions, including two breaks when Lee had to be escorted out of the courtroom after agitated outbursts, Kenai Superior Court Judge Carl Bauman handed down a sentence of eight years in jail with three of those years suspended and 10 years of probation. Lee will have to register as a sex offender. Bauman also included special conditions in the sentencing that will require Lee to complete an Alaska Department of Corrections-approved mental health evaluation and to follow through with all treatment recommendations made by a mental health assessor. The state has 90 days to file for restitution on behalf of the victim.

Lawson originally asked for a 15-year sentence with seven years suspended.

In his sentencing, Bauman denied the mitigating factors Cale requested — that Lee’s actions were the least serious conduct within the parameters of the offense of sexual abuse of a minor, and that the offense had caused consistently minor harm. He also said he disregarded the allegations with regard to kidnapping and to sexual assault since the jury returned not guilty verdicts on those charges.

Bauman said he took into consideration the fact that this was Lee’s first felony offense and her minimal prior criminal history when deciding the sentence. He referenced several factors the court is obligated by Alaska law to consider when crafting sentences to strive for uniformity and “eliminate unjust disparity in sentences,” including the circumstances of the offense, the likelihood of rehabilitation and the seriousness of the act in relation to other offenses.

“It’s no particular magic point what number the court assigns but the conduct in this case strikes the court as being in about the seven-plus range,” Bauman said. “Ten would be murder and mayhem, one would be jaywalking.”

Both the victim and his grandmother made comments to the court at the hearing. In his comments, the victim asked the court why, if he had in fact assaulted Lee, he would have come forward and stuck with the process for two years.

“After sitting here today and seeing this going on, I am more convinced than ever that this woman needs to be given the maximum sentence,” said the boy’s grandmother. “She has never accepted responsibility for what she did. She has harmed a child who will carry this for the rest of his life.”

After several interruptions, Bauman rearranged the hearing’s schedule so that Lee could make her statement ahead of attorney sentencing remarks. She used her comments to again state her innocence and maintained she was assaulted by the victim and his older brother. She spoke of misconduct she perceived on the part of investigators in the case. Lee also referenced her two sons and 13 grandchildren, five of whom are boys.

“I’ve lived my entire life with absolute purpose and intent in my education and in the work that I’ve done,” Lee said. “And every woman, every female woman and child on the peninsula has the right to not be raped. I have the right to survive my rape and I have the right to equal protection of the law, whether the troopers like me or not.”

Bauman ultimately found Lee in criminal contempt of court after an emotional outburst that included swearing while he spoke in preparation of handing down his sentence, after he had given her an official order to remain quiet. A separate penalty for that will be decided at a later date, he said.

“This certainly has been an unusual case from the start,” Lawson said in her sentencing remarks. “Not the least of which is because we don’t often see female sex offenders. We don’t often see perfect strangers engaging in sexual abuse of a minor.”

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