Justin Griffith

Justin Griffith

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Over a prosecutor's repeated protests, a defense attorney suggested sexual assault victims could be "temptresses" during a sentencing hearing Monday for a man who assaulted a 13-year-old girl.

"She looks and acts like she's 18 years old," attorney Lisa Kauffman told Missoula County District Court Judge Robert "Dusty" Deschamps. “You should see the pictures of her and the hair and the makeup.”

The girl's assailant, Justin Griffith, 26, worked at the teenage addiction recovery center in Missoula where the girl was a patient.

More than two years ago, in April 2015, Griffith was charged with sexual intercourse without consent — Montana’s law for rape. Prosecutors amended the charge to felony sexual assault when Griffith pleaded guilty in May.

Several times during Kauffman’s statements Monday, deputy county attorney Brian Lowney attempted to interrupt her descriptions and inferences.

“I just find this whole conversation offensive,” he said.

Kauffman told the judge that she is “not allowed to talk like that anymore,” about underage victims of sexual assault without having “every women’s group in the country” coming after her.

According to court documentation, Griffith worked as a clinical care worker at Western Montana Addiction Services where he “developed a sexual relationship” with a 13-year-old patient in March 2015. Griffith later told a detective that relationship lasted for a weekend.

Kauffman alleged there was a wild atmosphere at the treatment center, with teenage girls who “acted out sexually.” She said Griffith had not received any training on how to handle such situations.

Lowney said it was a “ridiculous assertion” that a lack of training led to Griffith sexually assaulting someone.

“It is hardly a training issue not to have sex with a 13-year-old resident,” he said.

Deschamps said he could envision a scenario where a sexually active teenager could seduce some older, inexperienced man, but said everything in Griffith’s file showed he had a significant number of sexual partners and didn’t think his situation lined up with what Kauffman was portraying.

“He’s been around the block and he knows the score,” the judge said.

“So was she,” Kauffman responded.

During a tense exchange between Kauffman and Lowney during a court recess, she asked, “How about victims as temptresses, what do you think about that?”

The victim’s mother, who was seated behind the attorneys, told Kauffman not to speak about her child that way.

“I was just making a little slam,” Kauffman told her.

“About my daughter,” the woman replied.

“No, no, no,” Kauffman said, before apologizing.

In the end, Deschamps imposed a judgment somewhere in between the recommendations of prosecution and defense: 20 years with the Department of Corrections, with 16 of those years suspended. In addition, the judge recommended that Griffith be required to complete sexual offender treatment while in custody, and that he continue such treatment during the suspended portion of his sentence. Griffith must also register as a sex offender.

***

Griffith was also charged with a second count of sexual intercourse without consent after another teen who had been at the recovery center reported he raped her. Lowney told Deschamps that charge was dropped as part of negotiations that led to Griffith’s guilty plea. He added that there was evidence Griffith had sexual contact with other teens at the recovery center.

Lowney requested a 30-year prison sentence, with 20 of those years suspended, in line with what a report prepared by a probation officer had recommended for Griffith.

Kauffman told the judge her client met the exceptions to the mandatory minimum sentence for sexual assault, and asked for a deferred sentence that could have eventually been wiped from Griffith’s record.

The prosecutor added that Griffith has given different accounts of what exactly happened between himself and the teenager, and eventually only admitted to kissing her and touching her over her clothing.

“I don’t buy that. I think there was more to it,” Deschamps said, adding that a deferred sentence just wasn’t going to happen.

“In fact I see some kind of incarceration here. He’s not going to walk out of here with a probationary sentence.” he said. “I get the picture of a guy who is a sexual predator. Not a guy who got himself into a bad situation with a girl one day and now here he is.”

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for The Missoulian.