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Retained jurisdiction in sex offense case

by ANNISA KEITH
Staff Writer | January 18, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A Sagle man has been sentenced to prison in connection to two sexual assault cases.

First District Judge Lamont Berecz ordered Jacob James Orville Gunter, 29, to serve up to 15 years in connection to two court cases but retained jurisdiction over the defendant. The sentence covers two court cases, one for a charge of lewd conduct, another for a charge of sexual battery. A third case for a count of rape was dismissed during the court process.

Also known as a “rider,” the court’s retained jurisdiction program is an alternative form of sentencing. Instead of serving their sentence to term, the accused is made to participate in treatment and intensive education programs during the first year of their sentence. After the first year, the accused can request to go on probation, however the judge can still choose to sentence them to term. The program is offered as a substitute for traditional sentencing in hope of rehabilitating an offender.

Gunter’s collective bail was $85,000 from the three sexual assault cases, all with unique victims. Altogether, he originally faced two counts of rape and a count of lewd conduct.

Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Nicholas Lepire moved to dismiss one of the rape cases on Aug. 6, 2021. In that case, the victim alleges that Gunter assaulted her at his residence in Sagle in August 2020 after a night of drinking. According to an affidavit of probable cause, the victim’s last memory was listening to music in the living room before coming to later that night to find Gunter assaulting her in a different room of the house, even though she could not recall how she got there.

Another count of rape was reduced to sexual battery, a misdemeanor, for an assault taking place on July 31, 2020. According to court documents, Gunter restrained and assaulted the victim at a Ponderay motel after a night of drinking. The next morning, Gunter followed the victim into the bathroom, patted her on the back, and said, “That has always been one of my fantasies, you’ll be fine.”

A different court case containing a count lewd conduct against a child took place on Dec. 21, 2020. According to court documents, Gunter violently molested the victim. He asked her if she wanted to “keep going,” but instead the victim fled to a bathroom, locked the door, and screamed for help.

That case went before a jury on June 21, 2021, where Gunter was convicted.

“At the time of trial, I’ll just be honest with you,” Berecz said addressing Gunter, “I thought, ‘This guy’s going to prison for a long time — it’s just a matter of how long.’ You’re sort of lucky that you stayed in custody because while in custody you’ve made a lot of changes on your behalf. Maybe with further reflection, you can be successful. I’m going to give you that opportunity.”

If Gunter is unsuccessful in the courts retained jurisdiction program, a 15-year sentence will be imposed, with five of those years being mandatory state prison time. Gunter was given credit for 368 days already served, and will have to register as a sex offender.

“Just to be clear,” Berecz said, “if I’m wrong, then you need to be in prison for a substantial amount of time. So, I’m going to impose [the 15-year sentence] so you have it over your head. You need to know that this is serious business. I think the real trick is if you do well when you’re out of custody.”

Gunter has participated in the jail’s inmate programs, even garnering a positive character statement from one of the jail’s correctional officers, which was entered into court documents.

Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Valerie Fenton asked for a sentence of 20 years on top of court costs and fees. Public Defender Susie Jensen asked the court to retain jurisdiction and impose a 10-year sentence if Gunter was unsuccessful in the court’s rider program.

“This is a serious crime, but we are asking the court for leniency in this case. We don’t believe that prison and incarceration would help Mr. Gunter,” Jensen said, “It is evident that he is ashamed of his actions.”

Berecz oversaw all three cases through the court process before handing down Gunter’s sentence on Jan. 7.

“I tend to think that you were not in your right mind,” Berecz said referring to the lewd conduct case, “I mean, of course you weren’t. Who in their right mind would do this?”

“Your criminal record is awful. You’ve had drug and alcohol problems your whole life, but you seem to be doing very well in jail, a sober environment. As a sober individual you seem to do well. Both of your crimes here are related to alcohol and drug use,”

“Most of your high risk factors aren’t sexual high risk factors. It wouldn’t matter what crime you’re here for, the point is you’re high risk for crime because you have such a long history of early onset substance abuse, and alcohol abuse,” Berecz said. “I don’t think we can identify a crime that isn’t related to drugs and alcohol. That’s basically every single one of these.”

Once the retained jurisdiction program is complete, Gunter will reappear in front of Berecz for a review hearing where he will either be sentenced to term, or be placed on strict supervised probation.

In the sexual battery case, Gunter was sentenced to the maximum sentence of one year, but was granted 365 days credit for time served.

“I’d like to tell you how sorry I am. That my life of sin and lawlessness has led me to a very dark place,” said Gunter, who became emotionally upset while giving his statement to the court. “I’m willing to take whatever punishment is handed to me. I never want to hurt anybody again,” he said.

“I know God forgives me for what I’ve done but, I wanna spend every day bettering myself and prove to [the victim] that I’m not the person that I proved myself to be then. … I just want her to know how very, very sorry I am. And that Jesus is waiting for her and that if she’s ever having problems she can go to Him. And that I might someday be able to prove to her that I’m not that person. I want to apologize to you all for having to go through that trial because it was horrible. I want [the family] to know that I want them to be happy and I’m so sorry for hurting all of them.”

There is no statute of limitations for those who wish to come forward in reporting sexual assault crimes against minors. Local resources are available 24/7 for those who want to seek justice. LillyBrooke Family Justice Center can be reached at 208-265-3586. The Bonner County non-emergency line can be reached at 208-265-5525. In a timely emergency, dial 911.