Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Woman sentenced to 30 years for molesting three boys, developmentally disabled man

(Original Post 3-4-08)

Michelle Vanmeter, a 35 year old former teacher and employee of a group home, was sentenced Friday, February 29 to 30 years in prison and five years of probation for sexually abusing three boys and a young deaf man with an IQ of 58. She gained access to three of her victims, who were brothers, through working with their mother at a Ft. Wayne group home.

According to court documents, VanMeter had sex with the boys between June 2006 to April 2007, and when Allen County Superior Court Judge Fran Gull sentenced her to 30 years in prison (which is 15 years for good behavior), followed by 5 years probation, giving her credit for over 15 months served.

VanMeter’s lawyer, Bart Arnold, argued that self-esteem issues and depression were to blame for his client’s behavior. Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said VanMeter preyed upon the families she victimized and Judge Fran C. Gull called the trust she violated worse than a parent violating the trust of a child. “My intentions were to never hurt anyone,” said VanMeter through tears at her sentencing.

Three of VanMeter’s victims were brothers. Two of them were teens, ages 13 and 15, while the third was the man, who is deaf and mentally challenged. He told his mother by sign language of their sexual encounter, according to court documents. After that the other two boys admitted the same.

According to the court documents, the trio would spend considerable time with VanMeter who met with their mother after they confessed and before she went to the police. VanMeter had just given birth to a baby girl whose pregnancy she kept secret, but then said had been the result of a one-night stand at a bar.During dinner with VanMeter, the victims’ mother saw the baby and later told police it looked like her 15-year-old son.

After the mother of the victimized brothers came forth and police filed charges, the father of a 12 year old boy came forward with concerns he had been molested she was eventually charged with that crime as well.

VanMeter eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of child molesting, a count of sexual misconduct and a count of sexual battery in order to have her prison sentence capped at 30 years. Friday, her lawyer asked for considerably less time in order for VanMeter to see her child.

“I would like my daughter to know her mother while she was young,” said VanMeter, who said the girl laughs and smiles whenever she has the chance to talk to her on the phone.VanMeter’s family is sharing custody of the girl with the boy’s family, though Richards said the boy’s family has spent thousands of dollars to secure exclusive custody of her.“

(VanMeter’s) caused trauma to that young man and his family,” argued Richards in her request that VanMeter receive the maximum penalty.Though several people wrote letters to the court, saying they noticed changes in her in the past two years as stress took a hold of a “good” person, nobody testified on her behalf.

Reading from a letter, VanMeter said as she looked back over the last few years, she could see that things weren’t “going well” for her and that she was no longer the “joyful” or “happy” person people knew.

“My intentions were never to hurt anyone,” she said, adding she brought life into the world as a result of her actions and considers her daughter a gift from God.

Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards argued VanMeter fit the classic pattern of a child molester – male or female.

VanMeter preyed on the boys, going out of her way to cover up her conduct and to buy their silence with gifts, Richards said.

And she asked Gull not to differentiate between a male child molester and VanMeter in sentencing.

“Does it matter if you are a man and you (molest) out of a position of power and control, or if you are a woman and you manipulate a position of trust?” Richards asked.

The victims have been damaged by VanMeter’s actions, particularly the teen who found himself a father and will have to deal with that stigma, Richards said.

Both the boy’s family and VanMeter’s parents have been in a heated custody battle costing the boy’s family thousands of dollars, Richards said.

Though VanMeter had no prior criminal record, Gull said that she was in an "extraordinary position of trust," and her assaults "appeared calculated." She said to VanMeter, "Sort of murder, there's nothing more serious than a Class A felony. You jumped right in." "You were not only in a position of trust;you were in an extraordinary position of trust."

(Update 5-27-09) The family of 3 of Vanmeter's victims have filed a civil lawsuit against AWS under the doctrine of respondat superior. Respondat superior states that the employer is responsible and liable the actions of an employee at all times while the employee is acting within their employment scope.

Filed [May 19] in Allen Superior Court, the unnamed plaintiffs, identified only by their initials "L" and "J" on behalf of their children "A," "D" and "J," sued AWS, formerly known as Anthony Wayne Services, for compensatory and punitive damages.

The suit alleges that Vanmeter became acquainted with the family by being a personal assistant to their oldest son. It was through this that she became sexually involved with them."As a result of the molestation … each of them have suffered pain and suffering, mental distress, mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, physical and psychological trauma, counseling expenses and other damages and injuries," according to the lawsuit.

Because Vanmeter got pregnant and decided to carry the victim's daughter to term, raising the grandchild is "directly attributable to the sexual molestation and statutory rape of their minor son."

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