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PAXTON — A 61-year-old Gibson City man has been sentenced to 30 months of probation and 10 days in the Ford County Jail after admitting he exchanged hundreds of text messages with a 15-year-old girl without her parents’ knowledge and went to her home while they were away, kissing and groping her while there.

Judge Matt Fitton imposed the sentence on Ricky P. Ensign following a four-hour sentencing hearing on Sept. 23 in Ford County Circuit Court.

Ensign had pleaded guilty in July to one count each of traveling to meet a minor, a Class 3 felony, and solicitation to meet a child, a Class 4 felony, in exchange for State’s Attorney Andrew Killian agreeing to dismiss felony charges of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and residential burglary.

During the sentencing hearing, Ensign’s victim, who was 15 at the time of the offense, read some of the more than 300 texts messages that Ensign and she had exchanged on Sept. 22, 2017, and gave details about what Ensign did to her after traveling to her home while knowing that neither her mother nor father was present.

The girl testified that while Ensign was at the house — and as she was walking down a hallway to check on her brothers, whom she was babysitting — Ensign grabbed her from behind by her hips, turned her around, pulled her close to him and kissed her while his hands squeezed her backside.

The girl testified that Ensign left the home only after an adult who was staying with her family came home and found Ensign there. Even after leaving the home, Ensign continued to send text messages to the girl that same day, including one indicating that he enjoyed kissing her and asking if they could do it some more.

Another text message revealed that Ensign requested and got permission from the girl’s father, to whom Ensign is related, to have her sleep over at his house with himself and his wife of more than 30 years the following night.

Prior to any sleepover occurring, though, the adult staying with the family told the girl’s father about finding Ensign in the home earlier in the day, and upon her parents checking her phone, a portion of the incriminating texts were discovered. A search warrant later was obtained for the examination of Ensign’s phone, which revealed the entire conversation between the girl and Ensign, including messages that Ensign had deleted.

In reading a victim-impact statement to the court, the girl said she wanted an “apology not only from Ricky but all the Ensign family.”

“I want Ricky to tell the truth and be punished,” she said. “I didn’t do anything wrong; Ricky did. I have to live with what he did to me forever.”

In arguing that Ensign be sentenced to the Illinois Department of Corrections for 4 1/2 years, Killian cited several factors in aggravation, including that the incident had caused psychological harm to his victim, that Ensign took advantage of the trust he had being related to the victim, and that a term of imprisonment was necessary to deter others from committing similar offenses.

Meanwhile, Ensign’s attorney, Lance Cagle, argued for a community-based sentence. Cagle presented several letters from Ensign’s family and co-workers indicating their support for him. Cagle also cited the results of a sex offender evaluation that was completed prior to the sentencing hearing, indicating that Ensign could likely be safely monitored in the community while undergoing treatment.

Cagle also noted that Ensign had taken responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty, and that imprisonment would result on an undue financial hardship to Ensign’s wife.

In making a statement in allocution, Ensign apologized to his victim for the harm he caused her. Ensign also apologized to his wife, who was present in the courtroom.

Before sentencing Ensign, Fitton told him that it was likely he would be facing more serious charges if not for the girl’s parents getting involved so quickly. Fitton indicated he was persuaded by the results of the sex offender evaluation to give Ensign a chance to successfully complete a term of probation instead of sending him to prison.

In addition to receiving 30 months of probation and 10 days in jail — to be served on five consecutive weekends — Ensign was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.

Additionally, Ensign was ordered to complete sex offender counseling, not have any contact with his victim or her family, not have access to any device capable of accessing the Internet or communicating with children, have no unsupervised contact with anyone under 18 years of age, and register as a child sex offender with the Illinois Sex Offender Management Board.

“While it was not the sentence that I asked for and thought appropriate for Mr. Ensign’s conduct, I am focusing instead on the tremendous courage it took for his victim to sit in that courtroom and tell her story in her voice, so that the judge had a better understanding of the damage Mr. Ensign caused her and her entire family,” Killian said in a statement.

“I want to thank Kaleb Craft and the entire Gibson City Police Department for investigating this case in such a thorough and professional manner,” Killian continued. “Their quick actions preserved the evidence that ultimately Ensign could not deny and made it possible for his victim to get justice.

“Additionally, I want to thank Tammy Long-Barragree from the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault for serving as the victim advocate during this case. Working with the victim, Tammy helped her find her voice and be able to open up about Ensign’s actions in a way that she was not ready to do two years ago. Also, a big thanks to Kasi Schwarz, my paralegal and victim coordinator, who worked to make sure that the victim and her family were notified and understood every step in this process.”