PAXTON — Before sentencing Ryan Todd Schoolcraft to 35 years in prison Monday for repeatedly sexually molesting a girl beginning when she was 11 years old, a Ford County judge heard testimony and evidence alleging the 43-year-old Gibson City man had previously had inappropriate sexual contact with at least three other girls, including one who gave birth to his first child.
Prosecutor Lorinda Lamken noted the "numerous victims" of Schoolcraft’s conduct in asking Judge Matt Fitton to impose a 40-year sentence instead of the 16-year term requested by his attorney, Maureen Williams of Peoria.
Fitton, however, ultimately settled on a 35-year sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections, of which Schoolcraft will be required to serve at least 85 percent.
Schoolcraft, who was immediately remanded into the custody of the Ford County Sheriff’s Office until he is to be sent to prison, will receive credit for the 61 days he has already served in the county jail.
Following a three-day jury trial, Schoolcraft was convicted on Jan. 11 of two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, a Class X felony, and one count of criminal sexual assault, a Class 1 felony. Under truth-in-sentencing guidelines, he faced a mandatory sentence ranging from 16 to 135 years in prison.
The charges stemmed from the repeated sexual assault of a girl he had known since she was 4 years old. Lamken said the molestation began when the victim was 11 and continued until she was nearly 16.
"It wasn’t a one-time thing," said Lamken. "There were numerous incidents when this defendant ... sexually assaulted (her)."
The victim, who earlier testified at trial, told the court Monday that the abuse caused her mental trauma and that she continues to have nightmares as a result of it.
"The thought of him doing this again is unimaginable and sickening," she said.
In laying out aggravating factors for Fitton to consider in imposing a sentence, Lamken called two women to the witness stand — both of whom claimed they engaged in sexual acts with Schoolcraft when they were juveniles and he was in his early 20s. Schoolcraft was never charged with any crime in connection with the alleged conduct.
One of the women, now 35, testified that she met Schoolcraft when she was 11 and they started dating and having sexual intercourse when she was 15 and he was 22. The woman said their relationship was "off-and-on" for about 6 1/2 years. She said she started living with him a couple of months before she turned 17.
"At first we got along really good; he was really sweet," she said. "But he progressively got more violent. There was physical abuse sometimes, and also he would call me names and put me down."
The woman said sex with Schoolcraft was usually consensual, but not always. She recalled one such incident that allegedly took place when she was 17.
"There was one time he hit me on the side of the head because I made him angry, and I remember waking up on the floor in the living room and my pants were off and he was zipping up his jeans," she said through tears. "He told me I wasn’t really unconscious."
She testified that two other alleged nonconsensual sexual acts also occurred while she was still in high school, when Schoolcraft pressured her into participating in various sexual acts, including one with another juvenile female who at that time was her "best friend."
The friend testified next, confirming the woman’s story.
"It was something I didn’t want to do," said the friend, who was 16 at the time and is now 37, "but I went along with it."
The now-35-year-old woman’s relationship with Schoolcraft ended sometime after she turned 21, she said, after Schoolcraft "cheated on me several times with girls my age, older than me, younger than me."
Lamken also noted that an old court case revealed that the mother of one of Schoolcraft’s children appears to have given birth to the child in 1995 when she was only 16 and Schoolcraft was 19. Not only would Schoolcraft’s sexual contact with that juvenile have constituted a felony crime under state law, but the crime would have also been enhanced to a Class 2 felony because Schoolcraft caused the girl to become pregnant, which is the same as causing "bodily harm" in the applicable statute, Lamken said. Schoolcraft was never charged with a crime in that case, either.
Lamken also noted that Schoolcraft was charged in 2004 with criminal trespassing after being caught peering into the windows of his ex-girlfriend’s residence in Paxton. Schoolcraft was later sentenced in that case to a year of court supervision.
"This calls into question his behavior toward women even further," Lamken said.
Lamken asked Fitton to consider, among other aggravating factors, that Schoolcraft caused serious harm to his victim, including psychological harm, and that she was only 11 when the abuse began.
Schoolcraft’s attorney, Williams, asked Fitton to consider that his conduct did not cause any "physical harm" and that his conduct was a result of circumstances not likely to reoccur. Williams also noted that Schoolcraft is remorseful for his actions and that he has "young children" who will "sorely miss him" while he is incarcerated.
"My client made mistakes. He feels bad about it," Williams said in asking the minimum sentence be imposed. "A person can learn a lot in 16 years. Although it’s the minimum, it’s still a long sentence. It would be adequate in order to give him time to think."
Earlier, Williams had Schoolcraft’s mother, Patricia Mattingly, testify. Mattingly said her son has been a "very good father" and that the crimes he committed are "tearing him up" inside.
"Do you think he feels bad (about what he did)?" Williams asked Mattingly.
"Yes, very bad," Mattingly responded.
Schoolcraft, reading a letter to the court, described himself as a "broken man."
"I truly am sorry," said Schoolcraft, wearing an orange jail-issued jumpsuit and shackles. "I am sorry to everyone in this courtroom today who has suffered through all of this."
Schoolcraft, an Army veteran, said he fully understands the "value and reasoning behind taking responsibility" but asked the court for leniency because he has not been a "career criminal" and has been an "educated and productive member of society" and a "loving father."
"My children love me with all of their hearts and need me in their lives as much as I need them in mine," Schoolcraft said.
Before imposing a sentence, Fitton said he believes that Schoolcraft feels genuine "sorrow" for what he did but other factors greatly outweigh his remorse. Fitton noted that the seriousness of Schoolcraft’s crimes should carry a penalty serious enough to deter others from committing the same offense.
Schoolcraft’s family members wept when Fitton announced the sentence of 35 years in prison.
Sentencing was originally expected to occur last month but was delayed until Monday mainly due to a motion for a new trial having been filed by Schoolcraft’s attorney. Williams’ motion for a new trial was expected to be heard Monday before the sentencing hearing, but Williams ended up withdrawing it.
Lamken prosecuted the case instead of Ford County State’s Attorney Andrew Killian. Killian opted not to prosecute it because he graduated in the same high school class as Schoolcraft and wanted to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.