Smith sentenced to 3 years in prison

Rodney G. Smith

An Assumption man has been sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated battery to a 4-year-old.

Rodney G. Smith, 28, had originally been charged with predatory criminal sexual assault against the child, but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. He had asked Shelby County Circuit Judge Douglas Jarman for two years probation, but is headed to prison after sentencing on Wednesday. He was convicted on March 13.

The court heard arguments on Wednesday State's Attornney Gina Vonderheide and Public Defender Brad Rau. Testimony also included a victim impact statement from the victim's mother and statements from the defendant's mother. Smith also testified on his own behalf.

Smith testified that he had a young daughter himself and she and the mother of the child was moving to the area. He wanted to be able to support them. He testified that he had been at all his probation meetings and not been drinking, while at his mother's house, awaiting sentencing.

"I'm done with drinking," Smith said.

Vonderheide pointed out that his recent sobriety was while he was in jail and restricted to his mother's home. Despite his testimony that he wanted to remain clean and sober, Vonderheide made her sentencing recommendation to the court.

Vonderheide said he should be sentenced to three years in the Department of Corrections and stated the factors.

"He has a history of criminality," Vonderheide said. "He has been arrested six times for driving while suspended. He had two pending felonies when he was arrested for this felony. He has a DUI, reckless driving, domestic battery and flight to avoid arrest. Mr. Smith is not someone, I believe, who could successfully complete probation."

Vonderheide mentioned that Smith had already received a reduced charge.

"We need to send a message to the public that it's not O.K. to (molest a little girl)," Vonderheide said. "He pled guilty and must be held accountable."

Vonderheide pointed out that there are three kinds of people in the world, guardians, those who are guarded and intruders.

"He took advantage of friends, guardians, who allowed him to be around their children. He assaulted their daughter, one to be guarded, moving her diaper to touch her and he became the intruder. He changed their lives irreparably. He brought anger and sadness into their lives and their daughter doesn't feel safe in her own home."

"Three years is not enough time," Vonderheide said. "No time is enough. This sentence is necessary to protect the public and for this family to find a measure of peace."

Rau brought up mitigating factors in the sentencing. He questioning the "threatening of seriously bodily harm." He also said Smith's mother testified how this has changed him.

"As long as he remains sober, he can meet the obligations of probation," Rau said. "Most of his priors were traffic and alcohol related. He is in a position to be a productive member of society."

Rau asked for two years probation, subject to the conditions of his probation, time served, counseling, no drugs or alcohol and no contact with the victim or her family.

Smith said, "I want to prove I can stay sober. Prison won't help me. Probation will help me."

Jarman wasn't persuaded.

"As far as 'aggravation,' I find that there is aggravation in the 'threatening and causing serious bodily harm,' based on the mother's statement," the judge said. "You have been on probation nine times and have had six driving while suspended. This sentence is necessary to deter others.

"As far as mitigating factors, I find none. Will he comply? No, he's never done that. Two to five years is a possible sentence. There is a three-year cap due to the plea agreement. I sentence you to three years incarceration, followed by a year of supervision upon release. There is credit for 194 days served. The defendant is to be remanded to the Sheriff's Office and be transported to the Department of Corrections."

Rau discussed the issue of registering as a violent offender against youth, instead of a sexual offender. Vonderheide argued that being on the sex offender registry was appropriate given the nature of the crime. Jarman did not rule that Smith be put on the sex offender registry, because that charge was reduced. But Smith must register as a violent offender against youth.

Smith also wanted more time to make arrangements before going to DOC. Vonderheide objected.

"He pled guilty on March 13, it's now May 1," Vonderheide said. "He has been at his mother's house. He has had plenty of time since then to get his affairs in order."

"I agree," Judge Jarman said.

Smith was taken away to serve his sentence.

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