A Douglas County sheriff's deputy caught him in the act.
Thinking he had found a couple of canoodling teenagers, Deputy Russell Swanson instead discovered a 29-year-old man with a naked 10-year-old girl in the back of a pickup truck in an undeveloped neighborhood near Standing Bear Lake.
The man, Sean P. Hanken, told deputies that he performed oral sex on the girl and that he thought she was 8 or 9 years old.
Hanken, described by psychiatrists as having diminished intellectual capacity, also said he knew what he did was wrong and that he was going to jail.
Despite that evidence, prosecutors reduced Hanken's charge from first-degree sexual assault — which carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison — to third-degree sexual assault involving touching.
District Judge Kim Pankonin on Thursday sentenced Hanken to five years in prison — the maximum term for the reduced charge.
“This was a very disturbing case,” Pankonin told Hanken. “You did get a substantial break, which I think is not commensurate with the type of crime you committed.”
With credit for a year served in jail, Hanken has just 18 months left on his sentence. Under state sentencing guidelines, most defendants are released after serving half the announced term.
The result had Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine reviewing his office's handling of the case.
His conclusion? Concern — with Hanken and with his office's decision to reduce the charge.
Kleine said the prosecutor, who has since left the office to go into private practice, gave a few reasons for the plea bargain.
The prosecutor noted Hanken's intellectual competence, though lack of intelligence is not a defense for criminal activity.
The prosecutor also noted the fact that the girl said she blacked out and had no memory of the May 23, 2012, assault.
One other concern: Some of Hanken's admissions occurred after he asked for a lawyer — at which point the sheriff's interrogation should have stopped.
The case appeared strong otherwise.
The girl told authorities that Hanken, who had been dating her older sister, took her to the mall. He bought her something, then drove her out near Standing Bear Lake. From there, she told investigators, she had no memory of the incident, though authorities believe she was being evasive because she didn't want Hanken to get in trouble.
Swanson, who was on patrol, not only caught Hanken with his pants down and with a naked 10-year-old, but also a search of the truck uncovered condoms and lubricant.
Despite the girl's failure to recount details, a medical exam indicated that her vagina was red and irritated.
Kleine said his prosecutors typically consult with him on plea deals in major cases but not in all of the office's 3,500 prosecutions per year.
“This case wasn't run past me,” Kleine said. “I certainly wish we would have taken it a step further.”
Kleine said he would have pushed to take the case to trial and let a judge or jury decide what Hanken's intentions were. At a minimum, he said, he believes prosecutors could have secured an attempted first-degree sexual assault conviction. An attempt conviction meant that Hanken would have faced up to 50 years in prison.
Hanken's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Doug Johnson, argued throughout the case that Hanken never penetrated the girl — and that the original charge should have been no more than sexual assault by touching. (High courts, however, have consistently ruled that oral sex constitutes first-degree sexual assault.)
“I think it was the right resolution,” Johnson said of the plea bargain. “Both sides had some weaknesses with the case.”
After Hanken completes his sentence, he will have to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years.
Kleine said prosecutors likely will seek to commit him under a law that allows continued treatment for sex offenders after prison. Such civil commitments involve sending the offender to a regional center.
“I'm glad the judge maxed him ... though I wish we would have reached a different conclusion,” Kleine said. “I'm very concerned about this guy.”
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