Jason Lenoir, who crawled through the window of a Missoula home and raped an intoxicated, sleeping woman, had reached a plea agreement that would have included just 10 years of prison time.
But when retired Judge James Wheelis, who is presiding over Lenoir's case in Missoula County District Court, sentenced him instead to 70 years at the Montana State Prison, Lenoir exploded in an expletive-laced tirade that included asking the judge to perform a sex act on him.
“I don’t think I want to but thank you for the offer,” Wheelis responded.
In September 2016, Lenoir, then 20, was arrested and charged with sexual intercourse without consent — Montana’s statute for rape — as well as felony burglary and a misdemeanor for violating an order of protection.
According to court records, a woman told police she had been at a concert the night before and became intoxicated before going home and going to bed. She said she woke up the next day and found Lenoir naked in her bed, and that he told her he had broken in and had sex with her, something she said she did not remember.
Lenoir had recently returned to Missoula from Texas and had been contacting the woman, who had an active order of protection preventing Lenoir from contacting her, according to court records.
When he came back to the home the night of the rape and the woman didn’t answer, Lenoir told a detective he took off the window screen and went inside, saying he found the woman “passed out drunk” and that she “did not even know” he was there.
He told investigators that “technically that would be rape” but that he felt his situation was different because he and the victim had previously dated.
In early 2017, Lenoir decided he wanted to represent himself in the rape case. That summer, he filed a series of motions attempting to introduce evidence of the pair’s prior relationship. The judge turned down his requests.
“Essentially, what Defendant offers may be interpreted as saying that the witness had sex with him before when she was passed out or intoxicated and didn’t report him to the police, so her acquiescence in those circumstances should be treated as consent in the current charge,” Wheelis wrote in an order denying Lenoir’s requests.
“The Defendant’s assertion implicitly invokes the view that people, particularly women, can be treated as property. That is to say, an object or a piece of land has no power of consent... Applied to people, these concepts translate into the notion that once a person acquiesces in a specific behavior, such as sexual activity, then the option of withholding consent vanishes.”
According to court filings by prosecutor Ryan Mickelson, Lenoir was offered a plea agreement in July for 15 years at the Montana State Prison, with five years suspended. Mickelson wrote in filings that Lenoir didn’t believe the prosecution would be able to get the woman to testify in court. On the second day of trial in August, when Mickelson came into the courtroom with her, Lenoir asked if the plea agreement was still being offered.
Mickelson extended the offer with a small change that ended up making the difference of more than 60 years of prison time: if the judge went above the prosecution’s recommendation at sentencing, Lenoir wouldn’t be allowed to withdraw his plea.
Lenoir accepted, and pleaded guilty to the count of rape.
In the months since, with the assistance of a new attorney, he has attempted to withdraw his plea, saying that because of anxiety issues and autism, he has no memory of pleading guilty and therefore the plea agreement was not voluntary. Wheelis denied his request, saying he had answered questions at the time about his ability to proceed.
In January, Lenoir was also charged with felony assault on an officer from a September 2017 incident where he allegedly punched a detention officer in the face. That case is still active, and a trial is currently set for September.
At Monday’s sentencing hearing, Mickelson said Lenoir has had an “abhorrent” behavior record while in jail, including making crude comments and exposing himself to female detention officers.
When it was his turn to speak, Lenoir said he didn’t think he needed the sex offender treatment that came with his sentence, and that he didn’t consider himself a sex offender.
“Personally, on my own belief, I don’t think that’s necessary for me,” Lenoir said. “I wouldn’t, like, send me to prison or anything like that.”
In pronouncing the sentence, Wheelis called Lenoir a “danger to the public” reminding him that he was warned both by the woman and police not to contact or approach her.
“You’ve shown that you have no regard for other people’s wishes,” the judge said.