MITCHELL, S.D. — A Mitchell man was sentenced Tuesday, Aug. 20, to 15 days in jail for fourth-degree rape, making him the ninth person in the past 14 months to be sentenced for an offense involving the same victim.
Trevor Clark, 26, was granted a suspended imposition of sentence and ordered to serve 15 days in jail.
While reporters found nine criminal cases linked to the same boy through a search of Davison County court documents, Judge Chris Giles indicated at multiple hearings that upwards of 20 people were investigated in connection with the now-17-year-old victim.
"This is a situation where I've lost track of how many cases have stemmed from the same victim, where this young man entered into many consensual relationships," Giles said at Clark's sentencing hearing.
The Mitchell Police Division declined to give a full list of those charged in connection to the victim, and the South Dakota Unified Judicial System's public records officer did not respond to a request for information.
Giles said during the sentencing hearings for most of those involved that the victim portrayed himself as being 18 years old, leading them to believe he was able to consent to sexual acts. In reality, the boy was 15 when the offenses occurred. Giles said he imposed additional jail time for Clark because he may have had prior knowledge of the victim's age.
Philip Loyd, 32, of Stephenville, Texas, went so far as to ask the victim for identification to verify his age, and the boy reportedly produced a fake ID. Giles said that Loyd's presentence investigation report showed the lowest risk of reoffending he'd ever seen.
Prior to his arrest, Loyd had been an instructor at Tarleton State University in Texas and had no criminal record. He, like Clark, was convicted of fourth-degree rape and was granted a suspended imposition of sentence on July 23.
Det. Lt. Don Everson of the Mitchell Police Division said in July that it's rare to see a case in which multiple offenders are involved with one victim.
"We've only had a handful of them in the past 20 years," he said.
All nine people confirmed to have been involved were charged with either fourth-degree rape, possession of child pornography, solicitation of a minor, sexual exploitation of a minor or a combination of two or more of those charges. Among them, 37 felony charges were filed for incidents between May 2016 and November 2018. All accepted plea agreements with the state.
Like Loyd, the majority of those convicted had little to no prior criminal history, with the exception of 26-year-old Sterling Keizer, of Mitchell, who was the first of the nine identified offenders to be sentenced.
At the time of his arrest, Keizer was already a registered sex offender and was on probation for grand theft and aggravated entry of a motor vehicle. He had previously been convicted of 28 criminal offenses.
Keizer pleaded guilty to two of the four counts of fourth-degree rape he was charged with and was sentenced in June 2018 to 15 years in prison with eight years suspended on each count, to run concurrently.
Allen Palmer, 29, of Ethan, and Bradley Townsend, 33, of Mitchell, were also convicted of one count of fourth-degree rape. Townsend, who initially faced nine felony charges, was also convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor and given two suspended 10-year prison sentences in March. Palmer, who originally faced 10 counts of fourth-degree rape, was granted a suspended imposition of sentence on Jan. 8.
Also in January, 47-year-old Lance Bult, of Corsica, was granted a suspended imposition of sentence for solicitation of a minor. On Feb. 5, James Heginger, 20, who lived in Mitchell at the time of offense and has since moved to Iowa, was sentenced to 11 days in jail for fourth-degree rape and possession of child pornography. Giles said that Heginger and the victim attended Mitchell High School at the same time when the offenses occurred.
Two of the people confirmed to have been involved with the victim were not convicted of felonies. Bethany Brunssen, 42, of Sioux Falls, and James Christopher, 43, of Mitchell, were both convicted of disseminating harmful material to a minor and causing a child to be in need of supervision, both of which are Class 1 misdemeanors. Brunssen was sentenced June 11 to two concurrent sentences of 95 days in the county jail with 90 days suspended and credit for five days served, and Christopher was granted a suspended imposition of sentence on May 21.