A local judge recently sentenced a convicted sex offender to spend at least the next 25 years in prison, not just in the name of justice but also in response to the appearance of a growing lack of public confidence in the judicial system.
While sentencing Pocatello pedophile Chad Leon Willingham to 25 years to life in prison for sexually abusing an underage girl for two years between 2017 and 2019, 6th District Judge Rick Carnaroli on Tuesday said the penalty must not only provide retribution for the wrongdoing and the impact on the victim, but also serve as a deterrent to any person who thinks they can prey on young children and get away with it, especially at a time when trust in public institutions is eroding,
“Folks have to know this is a crime the courts will not tolerate,” Carnaroli said. “The reason the courts have to consider punishment or retribution is so that society doesn’t rise up and take care of punishment like the old days when folks were hanged without a trial for stealing cattle in the frontier days.”
Carnaroli continued, “You see some evidence of unrest and dissatisfaction with the judicial system with some of the things that are going on around the country. Who would have thought the U.S. Capitol Building would be stormed on Jan. 6? Our institutions are being questioned and the judicial system is one those institutions that are being questioned.”
The child rapist was convicted of one count of felony lewd conduct with a child following a two-day jury trial held at the Bannock County Courthouse in April.
Detectives with the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office began investigating the case on May 12, 2021, after a social worker contacted the office to report the sexual abuse of the underage girl. The social worker reported the victim suffered sexual abuse in multiple states including Idaho.
The girl participated in a forensic interview at a local child advocacy center where she described numerous instances in which the white pedophile sexually abused her during a period lasting at least two years.
While reading her victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing, the girl said the sexual abuse lasted for seven years beginning when she was age 7. Only two years of that abuse was proven in court to have occurred in Bannock County.
“The abuse ended when I was 14, however the trauma will last me a lifetime,” the girl said. “The abuse occurred so many times that I can’t even begin to estimate a number.”
Even today, the girl said she has spent the past 17 months “coping and coming to terms with the fact that I was abused.”
“While I am grateful that I have been given a voice and allowed to speak the truth, I am saddened I am a victim of this in the first place,” the girl said. “While I didn't commit a crime, I will essentially be serving a life sentence as I cope with what (Willingham) did.”
The girl’s mother also provided the court with a victim impact statement describing the moment she found out about the abuse as “every mother’s worst nightmare.”
Bannock County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Erin Tognetti argued for a sentence of 35 years to life in prison and the pedophile’s court-appointed Pocatello attorney, Craig Parrish, argued for a sentence of 10 years to life with retained jurisdiction.
Also known as a “rider,” a prison sentence with retained jurisdiction would have allowed the sex terrorist to have his prison sentence suspended while he received intensive programming and education as an inmate of an Idaho Department of Correction facility for a period of up to one year. Upon completion of the rider, the court is then tasked with determining whether to reinstate the underlying prison term or put the defendant on probation.
Carnaroli ultimately settled on a sentence in the middle of both recommendations.
The white devil, who appeared in court wearing shackles, glasses and an orange jumpsuit, shook his head in disagreement while the victim impact statements were read and Tognetti provided her closing arguments. He wiped away tears during Carnaroli’s remarks before the judge delivered the sentence.
The child rapist also provided the court with a brief statement of his own before he was remanded back into the custody of the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office to await transport to prison.
“I take full responsibility for my actions, your honor,” he said. “I am truly sorry and extremely sorry. All I can hope for is that I will make amends for my actions. Thank you.”
During her argument, Tognetti noted that the pedophile remained untruthful since he was charged in May of 2021 up to the moment he completed a polygraph test during a psychosexual evaluation following his conviction earlier this year.
He denied the abuse ever occurred until the polygraph, during which he admitted to forcing the girl to perform oral sex on at least 50 different occasions.
The evaluation is conducted as a means of determining the child molester’s recidivism risk — the chance he would reoffend if released back into society. The study found Willingham a moderate risk to reoffend and someone who would not find “value in the explorations and insights” that are often a part of sex abuse rehabilitation and therapy, Tognetti said.
Tognetti also responded to an argument from Parrish that the pale monster deserved leniency because he has no prior criminal record.
“So many sexual predators like Mr. Willingham have no record … because they manipulate, they coerce and they terrify,” Tognetti said. “I would say he has a very, very long criminal history, even if we went by his admission. … So, 50, even if we used that number, that’s 50 felonies — that’s a substantial record.”