Sentence angers officials, residents

Some say sentencing sex offender to probation instead of jail is not justice

Deputy District Attorney David Waite believes his recommendation that convicted sex offender Grant Taylor be sentenced to 10 years to life of probation was the right choice.

But he's one of few.

Several law enforcement officials and Craig residents say Taylor, 34, deserves to serve time in jail.

"We are extremely disappointed with the outcome of the prosecution, and disappointed with the lack of communication between the D.A.'s office and the police on why the decisions were made," said Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta. "An outcome like this just adds to people's mistrust of the criminal justice system."

Taylor was convicted Tuesday of Sexual Assault on a Child, a Class 4 felony.

Waite said issues of sensitivity and confidentiality surrounding the case make it difficult to comment, but was willing to talk about the decision to recommend probation for Taylor.

"In a case like this ... there are a number of things we look at. First and foremost, one of those things is getting treatment [for the offender]; unless, of course, the situation is extremely aggravated," Waite said.

Waite said his decision to place Taylor in the Sex Offender Intensive Supervision Probation (SOISP) program was based on a desire to inflict the least amount of additional trauma to the victim as a case of this nature moves through the legal process, pointing out that front page stories are likely to upset those who have to live with these assaults. "We need to consider the family and what they are going through," Waite said. "You have to consider what a trial would do. The victim has to be put on the stand in front of 12 adult strangers and discuss the intimate details of the incident. The trial process could be as traumatic, or more so, than the assault itself."

Waite sees the SOISP program as a more effective answer than jail time.

"The supervised parole would not have been an option if [Taylor] had served time. If we sentence him to jail, he serves his time, and he comes out of jail an untreated sexual predator. So he comes back into the community, out on parole, which would be supervised, but not to the extent that SOISP would be. Nor would [Taylor] be required to receive any treatment," said Waite. "Sure, if he serves time we have our pound of flesh he's been punished, but he hasn't been treated. The problem hasn't been fixed."

The laws concerning sexual assault do not allow for sentences to include both jail time and the SOISP program. There is no way to combine those penalties it's either one or the other, Waite said. The SOISP program is designed to deal with sex offenders and sexual predators.

Waite said he had "a solid feeling" about how the victim's family wanted to resolve the situation, and that the intensive, and possibly lifelong, supervision and treatment required in SOISP best supplied that outcome.

There are those who disagree, despite Waite's arguments.

Detective Sgt. Henry Stoffel said he put in more than 80 hours on the investigation, and felt the department had a strong case against Taylor.

According to Stoffel, Taylor corroborated the victim's story during questioning, giving law enforcement officials what they thought was an air-tight case.

"This decision was never based upon a lack of evidence; it was done, in part, to not add additional trauma to the victim," Waite said. "The probation department's initial recommendation was for [Taylor] to serve six years. If that recommendation had been followed, he would have probably been out in three years, released back into a community an untreated sexual offender; that's not a good [solution]."

Stoffel is the father of three children, and said he was personally affected by the case.

"As a member of the community, I am very disappointed. It's very upsetting that probation was seen as the best option, it's upsetting that [Taylor] will spend no time in jail for the crimes he committed."

Jeff Whilden, a resident of Craig and self-professed "pro-kid" person, said he was "shocked and saddened that the best that our judicial system could do was give probation to a predator who was in such a position of trust.

"This man was an Eagle Scout, a troop leader, a church leader," Whilden said. "What message does that send to our kids, that your security and safety is not worth a few thousand dollars to complete a case? In this society, a man who walks into a room, willfully points a gun and shoots an adult will get life in prison. But a man who walks into a room, willfully points a gun and shoots a child will serve three-to-five years. He'll be convicted of Child Abuse leading to Death. What does that mean? What does that say?"

Whilden sees the lack of empathy, security and value this country has for its children as a societal problem.

"The people of Northwest Colorado, when this first hit, turned their backs to it. I believe if [the community] had stood up and screamed bloody murder, the D.A. would have been under greater pressure to deal properly with this case."

Whilden said if more information got out, and people were made aware, maybe more people who were abused would feel they could step forward and say 'Yes, this happened to me', and we would support them. But that didn't happen."

Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead reacted likewise.

"Given this type of crime, these types of victimization issues, I question whether or not this is justice. I was disappointed in the sentence; there are a lot of issues in this case, issues that not only effect law enforcement, but have an effect on the community," Grinstead said.

Vanatta sees the issue of probation over prison as a philosophical issue.

"If we put Taylor in prison for 10 or 12 years, you don't need to treat him," he said. "I think the D.A. should ask for our input concerning these decisions. Whether he uses it or not is up to him, but to not involve us doesn't seem to be the best way," said Vanatta.

The issues of communication and inter-department cooperation have a central role in this case, and not just at the local level. The police first became aware of the threat Taylor posed when they began assisting the Postal Inspector's investigation in November of 1998. But the police could not move to protect the community until a federal indictment was issued in January of 2000. The police were repeatedly referred to the the U.S. Attorney's Office by the Postal Inspector when they asked for the case to progress so they could arrest Taylor.

It was in between that November and last January that Taylor assaulted his victim.

"We the system failed the victim," Stoffel said.

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