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PAXTON — A 23-year-old Gibson City man who was recently convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse for having sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old girl faces up to seven years in prison when sentenced in January.

Following a bench trial on Nov. 22 in Ford County Circuit Court, Judge Matt Fitton found Zakkeri S. Thompson guilty of the Class 2 felony and set sentencing for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 27.

Under truth-in-sentencing guidelines, Thompson faces a sentence ranging from up to four years of probation to a term of three to seven years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

During his trial, Thompson admitted that sometime between December 2018 and February 2019 he engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim at his apartment on State Street in Gibson City.

Thompson contended, however, that at the time of the incident, he believed the girl to be 17 years old — the age of legal consent in Illinois.

The victim testified, meanwhile, that the incident took place when she was 14, and she said she told Thompson her age via social media prior to the incident having occurred.  

Testimony also revealed that Thompson told Gibson City police during an April 29 interview that “she told me she was 15.” Thompson also made statements to police indicating that he told the girl not to tell anyone about the incident because he was afraid he would get in trouble.

Meanwhile, Thompson testified that when he said he was scared that he would get in trouble, he was talking about getting in trouble with his girlfriend, who was pregnant with their second child.

Thompson also said that — contrary to his statement during the interview with Gibson City Police Capt. Kaleb Kraft and Police Chief Adam Rosendahl — he only learned her true age after the incident occurred while he was removing her from his social media contacts.

Thompson testified that while he was removing the girl from his Facebook friends list, he saw in her profile that her birth year was listed as 2004. He testified that only then did he realize his victim was not 17.

When questioned by State’s Attorney Andrew Killian as to why he did not discuss this in the interview with police, Thompson indicated he was in a hurry to get the interview over with and return home, so he omitted it from his verbal and written statements.

Following Thompson’s testimony, Killian had the victim testify about her Facebook account.  Killian had the girl open her Facebook account on a monitor in the courtroom and go to her profile page.  

The girl’s birth year, as listed in her account, was 1988, not 2004 as Thompson testified. She testified that she had not set up her Facebook account, but rather her uncle had. She also said that she had never modified her listed birth year in her account profile.

The girl’s uncle then took the witness stand, confirming he had set up the account for his niece when she was only 6 years old. The uncle indicated that while he used her birth month and day in her profile, he used 1988 — his own birth year — as her birth year. He also testified that he had never changed the information since setting up the account.

In finding Thompson guilty, Fitton noted that he made statements during his interview with police that were at odds with his testimony during trial.  

Fitton further pointed out the lack of evidence supporting his story that he only learned of the victim’s age following the incident of sexual intercourse given that the victim’s Facebook profile had never shown her to have been born in 2004.

Killian notified the court and Public Defender Harvey Welch that during the January sentencing hearing, he anticipates calling the mother of Thompson’s child to the stand to show that she was under age 18 at the time that child was conceived.  

“This is a pattern of behavior on the part of Mr. Thompson that will have to be addressed during his sentencing,” Killian said.

In a news release, Killian credited the work of Gibson City police to investigate the crime.

“This is a prime example of how great police work during the investigative phase of a case makes my job much easier during the prosecution phase,” Killian said. “Chief Rosendahl and Capt. Kraft did a textbook job of locking Thompson into the facts of the case. When the statements he made during the interview were compared with those he made while testifying, it was clear the latter didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

“I also want to thank Tammy Long-Barragree with the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault for her work with the victim and victim’s family. Ms. Long-Barragree was instrumental in quickly investigating Mr. Thompson’s claims regarding the victim’s Facebook information, allowing me to demonstrate the inaccuracies of those claims on rebuttal.

“Most important, though, is the courage and resolve of the victim. Her willingness to testify against her abuser and her demeanor on the stand, even while under a tough cross-examination by Mr. Welch, ensured that Mr. Thompson would be held accountable for his actions.”