A Missoula tattoo parlor owner who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a teenage girl over several years received a 15-year suspended sentence Tuesday in Missoula District Court.
James Lee Burns, owner of Painless Steel on South Fifth Street West, must also pay $39,000 in restitution to cover five years of counseling costs for his victim, and register as a Tier 1 sex offender, meaning that he's considered a low risk for repeating the offense.
Burns' attorney, John Smith, had argued for a six-year deferred sentence, meaning the case would be dismissed if he served out the six years without incident. But Deputy Missoula County Attorney Suzy Boylan demurred, saying that "I think between the charge and the sentence, he is getting an incredible break for which he should be incredibly grateful."
Burns pleaded guilty in September to a felony count of sexual assault. His victim accused him of molesting her about a dozen times, beginning when she was about 13 until she was 20.
"The only reason you are not going to prison is that you have done an excellent job of cleaning up the mess that you have made," District Court Judge Douglas Harkin told Burns.
Boylan pointed out that Burns and his wife now have a 2-year-old adopted son, which means that Burns inevitably will be in contact with other children.
"We need to be very careful of the contact he has with small children," Harkin said. " ... As the boy grows up, there will be other boys and there will be girls hanging around."
Smith told Harkin that one of the conditions placed upon Burns stipulates that he can't be around other children unless he's accompanied by an approved and trained adult who's aware of Burns' background.
Another condition, said Boylan, is that Burns have no contact with his victim unless she initiates it through his probation officer.
The victim specifically requested the suspended sentence, Boylan said, which means that the charge stays on his record.
"Her feeling was that he did not need to go to prison, but needs some accountability - and some public accountability," she said.