A Missoula man was sentenced Friday to 40 years in the Montana State Prison, with 20 years suspended, after being found guilty of taking home and raping an intoxicated young woman he found in a downtown parking garage.
Shane Pelletier will be eligible for parole after eight years, but he will be classified as a Tier 2 sex offender and will have to undergo sexual offender treatment in prison.
Pelletier, 30, had pleaded not guilty to the July 2017 incident, but was convicted in January by a jury on a single charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
Psychologists on Friday testified that Pelletier suffered from severe mental illness, voices in his head and may have not been aware he was doing anything wrong. However, Cascade County District Court Judge Greg Pinski, who presided over the case, said Pelletier was a danger to the community and handed down the sentence that prosecutors requested.
“There is nothing about Mr. Pelletier that exhibits any remorse,” Pinksi told the courtroom. “That’s highlighted by Mr. Pelletier’s bravado he exhibited in his psychosexual analysis when talking about his sexual prowess in high school. Mr. Pelletier is arrogant and narcissistic. This was a crime of violence and Mr. Pelletier’s lack of awareness makes it likely he will re-offend.”
The woman reported to police that she had blacked out from drinking the night before and awoke in a dark apartment she did not recognize while being raped by a man she did not know. She passed out again, she testified at trial, and when she woke up again Pelletier allegedly was trying to rape her again.
Pelletier maintained throughout the trial that he was trying to help the woman. He said he found her drunk and vomiting in the stairwell of a parking structure, offered to bring her home, gave her food and let her shower and sleep there. He told police that she was thankful for his help and consented to the sex in an “encounter he genuinely believed would blossom into a romantic relationship.”
Detectives said Pelletier offered six different accounts of what happened. At Friday’s sentencing, Pinski noted that Pelletier has several prior felony convictions, including weapons offenses, along with 10 misdemeanors.
“That is an astonishing criminal record for someone who is 30 years old,” he said.
Laura Kirsch, a clinical forensic psychologist who evaluated Pelletier, testified at the sentencing under questioning from Pelletier’s defense attorney that she believes he was suffering from a mental disease at the time, schizophrenia. But she also said she didn’t think “it made him completely incapable” of appreciating what he did was wrong.
“There are positive symptoms of schizophrenia like hallucinations and negative symptoms like the absence of things that most people can do, like the inability to appropriately judge a situation or a lack of insight, and the inability to inhibit or control oneself,” she said. “And I do think alcohol played a role. Shane had been drinking all day. It was a combination of symptoms of schizophrenia and intoxication.”
Kirsch also said Pelletier was “consistent in maintaining that the encounter was consensual.”
“He thought he was helping her and treating her like a lady,” Kirsch said. “He was fairly adamant in the report. I do believe him. I think he misjudged and misperceived a lot of that situation because of his mental illness.”
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But prosecutor Brian Lowney asked Kirsch if defendants “sometimes construct a reality” to make themselves seem like the good person, and Kirsch replied that they often do.
Brian Sharkey, a licensed clinical professional counselor, testified that he often interacted with Pelletier at the Western Montana Mental Health Center.
“Shane is severely mentally ill,” Sharkey said. “I would rate him in the upper percentiles in terms of the severity of his psychosis and the impact it has on his life.”
Pelletier’s mother, Deborah Jean Sullivan, said she’s been a registered nurse for 40 years and described her son as “very easygoing” and “fun” when he was a boy. She said her divorce affected her son negatively, as did a car accident that resulted in him getting a $44,000 insurance settlement in high school.
“It was a really disastrous thing,” she said. “He was starting to drink a lot and use drugs. He dropped out of school six weeks before graduation and went on a spending spree and went to Coeur d’Alene and purchased cocaine, and that was the beginning of this whole thing.”
Pelletier’s lawyer, regional Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Streano, argued that Pelletier was likely to be assaulted in prison because he has trouble with social interaction.
“The last time that I felt like this about an inmate, that inmate ended up in a medically induced coma after being brutally beaten over and over,” she said.
She asked the judge to commit Pelleteir to the Montana State Hospital.
Pelletier read a short statement in which he apologized to the victim and asked that he be committed to the Montana State Hospital, saying he needed treatment to become a productive member of society.
The victim in the case testified at the sentencing as well, saying that she thought it was “unfair that this whole thing is focused on what Shane needs and wants.”
“It’s obvious he has mental health issues with prior convictions,” she said. “But if it was such an important thing for him to have support and community, why weren’t you pushing this before? You’re not going to prison because of your mental health, you’re going to prison because you did something wrong.”
In the end, Judge Pinski said that Pelletier had “unilaterally imposed a mental illness on the victim” because victims of violent sexual trauma often experience guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, fear, self-blame, disassociation, flashbacks, phobias, panic disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders. He also compared that to a life sentence, saying many experts believe sexual trauma victims often never find an “end point” to the negative effects.
“Mr. Pelletier has attempted to take away this young woman’s voice,” he said. “This court won’t allow that to happen.”