Thursday, May 21, 2009

Creston, IA officers sentenced to 25 years for rape of bartender

Two Creston police officers were both sentenced to 25 years in prison with a 14 year minimum yesterday for the rape of a 45 year old mother of three. James Christensen, 41, the town of about 8000's former police chief, and John Sickels, 39, the former assistent police chief, were charged with and convicted of 2nd degree sexual abuse last March.

The conviction stems from the attack on the waitress at the Crestmoor Country Club on April 18, 2008. After closing time, Sickels and Christensen held the victim down as Sickels proceeded to rape her. Sickels then offered the chance to rape the victim to Christensen, who declined to do anything but pet the victim's hair during the ordeal. The rogue officers were arrested in June of last year.

The officers' arrests in June sent shock waves through Creston, a southwest Iowa town of about 8,000. Christensen and Sickels were fired after they were charged. The trial was moved from Union County to Woodbury County to ensure fairness.The verdict capped an eight-day trial that was often contentious. Four hours of closing arguments became so heated that Judge Arthur Gamble twice sent jurors out of the courtroom so he could referee disagreements among the attorneys.

Sickels' lawyer charged that prosecutors deliberately tried to mislead jurors about which side was responsible to prove Sickels' guilt. Defense lawyers also raised questions during the trial about the accuser's statements, her reported drunken memory lapses in the past, and the tactics used by state investigators.

Prosecutors cited conflicting statements from Sickels and Christensen about the incident, their admitted request that night for oral sex, and the woman's unwavering story.

Sickels initially denied that he had sex with the woman, then twice changed his story when questioned by a state agent. Both men argued in court papers that prosecutors misstated facts and denied them a fair trial.

Gamble ruled that prosecutors broke no rules of evidence because the conviction was supported by evidence, including Sickels' admission that he had sex with the victim.

"Given the physical evidence at the crime scene and the admissions of the defendants, the state's case was strong. The complainant's testimony was credible. Her statements to the DCI, her deposition testimony and her trial testimony were consistent on her central allegation of sexual abuse. The testimony of the defendants was neither consistent nor credible."

Spectators included members of ICASA, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, whose spokeswoman, Catherine Fribley, said, "We are pleased to see a measure of justice brought for a survivor who experienced sexual violence at the hands of someone who was supposed to protect her. It's difficult to report people who are in prominent and important positions."

Both defendants read statements before the sentences were handed down, but neither apologized to the victim. Sickels criticized the trial as unfair and said "the system failed me." Christensen told the packed courtroom that he was sorry his relatives and friends "had to endure this."

After the hearing, Sickels' mother, Janet Jackson, said that "justice was not served here today. I'm proud of him and what he's done for the community. This was a setup from day one. You have two police officers with impeccable records, and one night of drinking that led to consensual sex. She lied and she lied on the stand."

Sickels and Christenson have 30 days to appeal their sentences, and both will be on Iowa's Sex Offender Registry for life.

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