EFFINGHAM — A Dieterich man was sentenced to 15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections Tuesday after pleading guilty to one count of predatory criminal sexual assault to a person under the age of 13, a Class X felony.
Keith E. Johnson, 61, will also undergo three years of mandatory supervision following his release from Illinois Department of Corrections custody. Johnson was given credit for 194 days served in the Effingham County Jail. Fines and fees incurred from the case were deemed uncollectable by Judge Allan Lolie because of the period of incarceration.
Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler requested Johnson be sentenced to the maximum 30 years in prison. When Johnson pleaded guilty in November, Kibler agreed to a 30-year sentence cap as part of the plea agreement; the charge originally carried with it a sentence of six to 60 years.
Johnson’s attorney, Walter Ding, asked for Johnson to be sentenced at the lower end of the sentencing range, requesting anywhere from eight to nine years.
Kibler called to the stand Detective Travis Monnet for evidence in the hearing.
Monnet said he was contacted by the Department of Child and Family Services out of Robinson after the victim reported to authorities in Crawford County two separate incidents of sexual assault by Johnson. Monnet said DCFS discovered the incidents took place at Johnson’s home in Dieterich.
In an interview with authorities, Monnet said Johnson confessed to two instances of contact of a sexual manner with the minor. The incidents occurred in the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019, Monnet said.
On both occasions, Monnet said Johnson confessed to skin-to-skin contact with the girl in that he touched her vaginal area with his hand and her breast with his lips. Monnet said the fall incident occurred in a hot tub, and the second incident happened in a bedroom in Johnson’s home, according to Johnson.
Monnet said according to the victim’s statements in a Child Advocacy Center interview, the fall incident occurred on a pull-out couch. Later in the arguments, Kibler pointed to this incident as the only discrepancy between Johnson and the victim’s recollection of the events.
Monnet testified that the victim reported the assaults in May and told Child Advocacy Center interviewers that Johnson inserted his fingers into her vaginal area during the first incident, and she managed to push him off before insertion of his fingers occurred the second time.
During Ding’s questioning, Monnet said Johnson had been cooperative throughout the investigation and was visibly emotional and crying at the end of his interview with Monnet. He added that Johnson did not recall the assaults at the beginning of the interview and asserted they may have occurred while he was asleep. However, later in the interview Monnet said Johnson was truthful about his actions and stated he would never do anything to hurt the victim.
Later in the hearing, a victim impact statement was read by the victim’s Counseling and Information for Sexual Abuse and Assault legal advocate Mickie Owens.
The impact statement detailed how the assaults have negatively affected the victim and have caused her great mental and physical distress.
“This will never, never be fixed. I have zero self-esteem. My life has completely changed and will never be like it was before,” Owens read.
Owens read that the victim was confused and scared when the incidents occurred and that it was hard telling someone about the assaults, but the victim knew she had to. The statement said the victim is now anxious and paranoid and feels as though there is something wrong with her and that “everyone stares” at her.
Following the reading of the impact statement, Ding called to the stand Johnson’s daughter-in-law, Brandie Johnson, of Dieterich. Brandie Johnson described her father-in-law as someone who enjoyed spending time with family and spent his free time fishing.
Brandie Johnson said prior to the sexual assault charge, she was not privy to any allegations of the sort involving the victim or anyone else. She said following Keith Johnson’s arrest, she struggled with how to tell her own children about their grandfather’s actions.
Keith Johnson’s incarceration has been difficult for his family, Brandie Johnson said, and each time she spoke with her father-in-law on the phone while he was in custody it ended with Keith Johnson expressing remorse and crying while doing so.
In the closing arguments, Kibler outlined the reasons Keith Johnson should be sentenced to the maximum prison time allowable in the case. Kibler said Keith Johnson held a position of trust over the victim, who is a relative.
Kibler said the sentence would also be used as a deterrent for others to refrain from committing the same acts.
“We’re trying to protect our most vulnerable. This victim was not even a teen yet. We need to send the message that this behavior is not tolerated,” Kibler said.
Ding argued for a sentence closer to the minimum six years in prison, telling the court that Keith Johnson is a quiet person and is a family man.
Ding said Keith Johnson has taken responsibility for his actions, evident by his guilty plea, and understands that his conduct broke the trust of his family.
Ding noted his client did not show this type of conduct prior to the charges and was cooperative with the investigation. Ding said the request for a 30-year sentence was excessive, and he recommended the court put more weight on Keith Johnson’s rehabilitative potential.
When given an opportunity to speak, Keith Johnson expressed his apologies through tears.
”I just want to say that I’m sorry,” Keith Johnson said. “I’m sorry for embarrassing my family and stepfamily. I would never intentionally hurt anybody. I’m truly sorry.”
Prior to sentencing, Lolie said he found Keith Johnson’s actions caused serious psychological harm to the victim, as outlined in her victim impact statement. Lolie said he also found that Keith Johnson’s conduct did in fact break the trust the victim had with him.
“Perhaps most importantly the defendant held a position of trust over the victim,” Lolie said. “When you betray that trust, that is a significant betrayal.”
Keith Johnson was remanded to custody and will be taken to the department of corrections to serve his sentence.