Aug. 17—As James Frederick McLeod stared on, head resting in hand, from the defendant's table in Flathead County District Court last week, the mother of his alleged victim described how rape changed her daughter.
"He hurt my little girl," she said. "He damaged her in ways you and I ... cannot understand."
"He hurt my little girl," she repeated, her quaking voice finally giving way.
McLeod, 63, pleaded guilty by way of an Alford plea to a single count of sexual intercourse without consent in late June — about eight months after the former assisted living facility employee's arrest — upon reaching a deal with prosecutors. In an Alford plea, a defendant maintains their innocence while acknowledging the weight of evidence against them.
On Aug. 11, Judge Robert Allison handed down the sentence: 20 years in Montana State Prison with 13 of those suspended and a tier one sex offender designation.
"A period of incarceration is warranted," Allison said. "These cases aren't all about treatment and rehabilitation. There is a punitive and punishment aspect to them and also a deterrence aspect."
McLeod's 2021 arrest came after authorities began investigating a report of a sexual assault at a Columbia Falls assisted living facility, according to court documents. The victim, a developmentally disabled and autistic woman, told Columbia Falls Police officers that McLeod assaulted her in her room.
McLeod rubbed her shoulders and eventually groped her butt and crotch, court documents said. The victim told officers she was terrified during the incident.
Confronted, McLeod allegedly admitted to groping the victim. He told officers he wanted to see if he could still get aroused, court documents said.
Both the victim's mother and her aunt testified during McLeod's sentencing. Both described the victim as, developmentally, about the age of a preteen.
"[The victim] is very innocent in how she looks at the world," her aunt told the court. "After this incident, she's got another outlook on life ... Her innocence is gone."
The victim looked at McLeod like a father figure, said her mother. His actions "shattered every part of her faith," she said of the victim.
"He took advantage of her, he abused her trust and he hurt my little girl," she said, calling on McLeod to pen a letter of apology to her daughter.
McLeod opted against addressing the court when his turn came.
Timothy Wenz, McLeod's attorney, had lobbied the court to allow for his rehabilitation outside of prison, asking for a fully suspended 20 year sentence. Wenz pointed to McLeod's age, his lack of previous criminal history and the 10 months he already had spent in county jail.
Deputy County Attorney Alison Howard acknowledged McLeod's lack of a criminal history, but told the court that other women had since come forward with allegations. She pointed as well to the victim's level of development. If McLeod abused a child of that age, he would face a far stiffer penalty, she said.
In handing down his sentence, Allison noted that he found Howard's comparison apt. He also noted the power dynamic between the two, that McLeod was held in a position of trust by the victim.
Along with the partially suspended sentence, McLeod received credit for 293 days of time served and was ordered to undergo sex offender treatment prior to becoming eligible for parole.
News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or email@example.com.