MANTI—Sanpete County has a low overall crime rate but that doesn’t mean it is free of sex crimes.
In fact, the Sanpete County Attorney’s Office is currently prosecuting 10 sex abuse cases, including four where the victims were under 14 and considered to be children under the law. Three other cases involve youths 14-17, and another three happened when the victims were 18 and older.
The cases range from a first-degree felony rape that happened in 2009 but was solved recently using DNA evidence to a man who threatened his victim if she didn’t provide him with nude photos.
When Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels checked historic statistics, he said it only appears that there is a statistical increase in cases right now. That’s because COVID restrictions have delayed many court proceedings, leaving more of the sex crimes pending. He said that the current annual case count is within 1% of the 15-year average.
The defendant in what is probably the most serious pending case is Kody Kummer, now 35. He is charged with raping a woman in Spring City in October 2009. Besides first-degree felony rape, he is facing two counts of first-degree felony object rape.
At the time of the incident, the victim sought medical help and had a rape kit prepared by a medical professional. The case languished for years because rape kits were not being processed by the Utah State Crime Lab due to personnel and funding issues.
In 2017, a law was passed that provided funding and required rape kits to be tested in a timely manner. The Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office emptied its shelves of backlogged kits and forwarded them to the crime lab. That led to Kummer being identified by DNA as the suspect in the 2009 rape.
Prosecutors put Kummer’s case on a fast track just in time for the COVID pandemic to slam the brakes on jury trials, which Kummer was insisting upon.
With COVID restrictions now being lifted, Kummer’s case is reaching a conclusion. He has dropped his insistence on a jury trial and is scheduled to enter a guilty plea on March 30.
Daniels said his office views sex abuse cases with a more critical eye than many other crimes, second only to murder in seriousness. “We don’t give much on plea deals compared to cases of theft or fraud or other lesser felonies and misdemeanors.”
He said his office particularly holds the line on cases that involve children. “Child molestation is a heinous act that doesn’t get much sympathy out of this office.”
Some other current cases include:
Zachary Duane Wooley, 18, who is accused of one count of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, and one count of unlawful detention, a class B misdemeanor.
Kaden Eugene Parish, 22, who is charged with one count of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, a third-degree felony.
Jimmy Minko Faapouli, 21, who is accused of object rape, a first-degree felony; forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony; and lewdness, a class B misdemeanor.
Peter Howard, 57, who is charged with dealing in materials harmful to a minor, a third-degree felony, and witness tampering, a third-degree felony.
Robert Roe, 37, who is charged with sodomy of a child, a first-degree felony, and aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony. Roe is scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 9, 2022.
Henry Nacanor Maldonado, who faces three counts of sexual abuse of a child, all of them second-degree felonies.
It should be remembered that in all these cases, the defendants are presumed to be innocent until found guilty by a court of law.
There are facts of which everyone should be aware regarding sexual abuse.
Sex without consent is always unlawful. The age of consent in Utah is 18, but there are exceptions. Youths 16 and 17 years old can give consent if the corresponding party is not more than four years older. If a defendant is 4-7 years older, he or she would face a maximum of a Class A misdemeanor. Older than that, and they could be charged with a felony.
Another exemption is if the person is married. Marriage age in Utah is 16. Sixteen and 17-year-olds need written parental permission to marry.
Anyone under the age of 14 is considered to be a child and incapable of giving consent.
Any sexual exploitation or contact with a child is absolutely illegal. Mentally impaired people can be considered a child no matter their actual age.
Persons who are considered to hold a position of trust with a child have a high degree of liability in sex crime cases. Such persons could be a parent, teacher, counselor, religious leader, aunt, uncle or grandparent.
Regardless of age, “no” means no, and a legally recognizable “no” can be stated at any time, even in the middle of the act.
By law, persons under the influence of alcohol or drugs who are judgmentally or physically incapacitated are deemed to be incapable of consent regardless of whether they voluntarily or involuntarily ingested the substance. Therefore, any sexual activity committed while the other person is impaired could be considered unlawful.
The consent requirement applies even between spouses. Marital sexual abuse is punishable under Utah law.
Any person who has knowledge of sexual abuse, particularly regarding children, who fails to report it to authorities can be held just as liable before the law as if they committed the offence themselves.
For example, if a mother knows her husband is sexually abusing a child and fails to report it, she could go to jail as an accessory.
Teachers and school counselors are trained to watch for behaviors that may indicate that a child has been or is being sexually abused. The Sanpete County Children’s Justice Center acts as a rescue agency for exploited children.
The important thing is that if you suspect sexual abuse is happening, report it to local police, a sheriff’s deputy or the Utah Division of Child and Family Services. It’s not just a moral issue but a legal one as well.