Vayeeleng Moua, a former Missoula County Youth Court officer, won’t spend a day in prison for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.
At the end of a hearing on Thursday, District Court Judge James Manley of Lake County gave the convicted child molester a six-year deferral of sentence for felony sexual assault of a minor, lower than the mandatory minimum for that crime.
During a trial in November, Moua, of Missoula, was convicted of the felony but found not guilty of two other felony charges, one for sexual intercourse without consent and another for indecent exposure.
In a statement before pronouncing the sentence, Manley called the case “the most unique and difficult decision I’ve had to make” and said he views Moua’s child molestation as in some ways the “most serious, most cruel crime.” However in the end, he chose to side with the recommendation of the defense and experts who performed psycho-sexual evaluations on Moua and said the best place for him to receive treatment is out in the community.
Manley said the shame Moua brought onto his family and his Hmong culture, as well as the loss of his career, was punishment for his crime.
“Nothing I do to punish Mr. Moua will be as much as he will punish himself,” he said.
Ole Olson, one of the state prosecutors on the case, had requested a 20-year Montana State Prison sentence with 15 years suspended. He said without some type of incarceration, he would have a hard time telling victims of similar crimes that it was worth the pain of going through a court case if the end result was a person not being put behind bars. The state cannot appeal the sentence.
During the hearing, Olson asked the victim’s mother if she would have put her daughter through the case had she known the result wouldn’t be jail time. The woman said no, never.
“This sentencing is going to send a message,” Olson said.
In January of 2015, Moua was charged with three felonies in the case, after prosecutors say he repeatedly sexually abused and inappropriately touched the teenage girl during the summers of 2012 and 2013.
During Thursday’s sentencing hearing, two of the victim’s aunts, as well as her sister and mother, testified. The aunts both said Moua had touched them inappropriately when they were teenagers more than 15 years ago, after Moua and his then-13-year-old wife had their first child. The victim’s sister said Moua also had inappropriate contact with her the year after he assaulted her sister. All four, including the victim’s mother, said they wanted to see some amount of jail time for what Moua had done, adding that since the trial, the victim has become more withdrawn and rarely speaks with her family.
“I would like to know that other little girls are safe from this predator,” one of the aunts said.
While sexual assault of a minor carries a mandatory minimum of four years in prison, a judge can choose to go below that level if he or she determines the treatment of the offender is better done in the community and that such treatment is in the interest of protecting the victim and society. Judges also can defer sentences if a financial penalty is imposed, like the $1,000 fine Moua received.
Michael Sullivan, a clinical social worker who performed a psycho-sexual evaluation on Moua, said he is a tier-one, or low risk of reoffending, sex offender, and recommended that his treatment take place in the community rather than through incarceration, saying there is often a wait list for such treatment in prison. He also said Moua continues to deny that any inappropriate conduct occurred, but that the denial doesn’t affect his potential for recidivism.
Sullivan said he knew about the other accusations made against Moua, but that they didn’t factor into his determination.
The defense’s character witnesses, including family, friends and former colleagues of Moua’s from Youth Court, all spoke highly of him. Glen Welch, chief juvenile probation officer, and Murray Pierce, home arrest program coordinator, said Moua had been an outstanding employee.
“If he had been acquitted, I would have hired him back,” Welch said.
Pierce said he was surprised when he read the charging documents against Moua.
“The (Moua) that we knew did not fit what we read,” he said.
Forensic psychiatrist and Moua family friend Dr. William Stratford said before the conviction, there was “not a better citizen in this town” than Moua. When asked by Olson what he thought of the other women who had come forward saying Moua had had inappropriate contact with them in the past, Stratford said it didn’t effect his opinion, adding that “allegation can be fact or fantasy.”
Moua's friends and family who testified wouldn’t give straight answers when Olson asked whether they believed Moua had molested the victim. When Moua's father Chou took the stand, he was more blunt.
“He did not do what he is accused of,” Chou said, adding that the stories against his son were “made up” by “people with no evidence, no proof,” and said the case should be dismissed.
Olson recommended Moua’s sentence include at least some prison time. He said he didn’t think treatment in the community was a good idea for the sex offender, saying the defense had not presented anyone who believed Moua had committed the crime he is convicted of.
Moua’s father also touched on his own history working with the U.S. Armed Forces while he was in the military in Laos before he was airlifted and eventually came to the States.
Before Manley sentenced Moua, the judge shared he had been drafted into the Vietnam War and had worked alongside the Hmong people overseas, gaining an admiration and respect for their culture. The judge also said Moua “should be commended” for the letters that have been sent to the court supporting him.
John Smith, one of Moua’s attorneys, said imposing a deferred sentence with probation restrictions would allow Manley to impose a strict sentence if Moua violated the conditions.
“You have the huge hammer over him that way,” Smith said. “Yes, taking him out of here in cuffs is punishment, but so is everything he’s gone through up to this point.”