By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
A former employee with the Liberty School District who admitted to having sex with a 15-year-old high school student was sent to prison on Friday.
Trent D. Taylor, 27, of Golden, was sentenced to 41/2 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections by Judge Scott Walden during a sentencing hearing in Adams County Circuit Court. Taylor faced up to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in May.
Taylor was eligible for probation. The felony conviction is Taylor's first, but Walden opted to send him to prison.
Walden was upset that Taylor kept from the court a letter of reference the mother of Taylor's girlfriend had written to be included in Taylor's pre-sentence investigation. The woman had given Taylor the letter and asked him to turn it in to his probation officer. The letter was never delivered.
Walden said Taylor opened the letter and harassed the woman by phone because the letter "characterized you in a less than favorable light."
"Deception and sneakiness doesn't fit for a sentence to probation," Walden said. "I don't need to read what was in that letter. I believe you would be sneaky, deceptive and manipulative if you were placed on probation."
Taylor was arrested Jan. 29 by the Adams County Sheriff's Department. At the time of his arrest, Taylor was a day custodian in the junior high/high school building in Liberty.
Police say Taylor befriended a 15-year-old girl who was a special education student at Liberty High School. The girl's ex-boyfriend helped her get Taylor's phone number. The two started their relationship by talking on the phone. The girl was having problems at home, and Taylor and the girl struck up a friendship. The friendship turned sexual on Nov. 27. Police said Taylor and the girl had sex in the driveway of the girls' home in Adams County.
Assistant State's Attorney Josh Jones said Taylor did not take responsibility for his actions. Taylor said during a sex offender evaluation that he didn't believe that he sexually exploited the girl. He told Dr. Kier Goatley that the girl "wanted It and enjoyed it."
Jones said Taylor also possessed naked photos of the girl on his cellphone and also sent her photos of his penis.
Jones said even though it was Taylor's first felony conviction, Taylor deserved to go to prison.
"Certain offenses are so severe that probation is not the appropriate sentence," Jones said. "He worked at the high school where she was a student, so he knew how old she was.
"When you kill someone and it's your first felony, you don't deserve probation. To an extent, Mr. Taylor killed this girl's childhood."
Public Defender Brett Jansen, who represented Taylor, lobbied for probation. He cited Taylor's lack of previous criminality. He said Taylor had a tough upbringing and didn't have a structured home life as a child. He said Taylor's two children, ages 8 and 2, depend on him for financial support.
Jansen said sex offender treatment would be "very necessary" for Taylor after Goatley found Taylor at a moderate to high level to reoffend.
"I'm not sure that he'll get the same kind of treatment if he is sent to the Department of Corrections," Jansen said.
Taylor asked Walden for probation and treatment. He also asked if he could be eligible for work release if he was sent to the Adams County Jail.
Family members in the courtroom sobbed after Walden made his decision, but Taylor did not react. A woman, who later identified herself as Taylor's sister, had been told to leave the room during the hearing. She later came back into the courtroom and yelled an expletive.
Walden asked that the woman be brought to the front of the courtroom. After telling her that she could be sent to jail for contempt of court, Walden let her leave with a warning.
Taylor will get credit for three days served in the Adams County Jail in the case. He had been free since posting $1,500 bond Feb. 3.