Deal made in '80s rape case

Of The Gazette Staff

June 19

A man who admitted raping a 7-year-old girl 20 years ago was sentenced Wednesday in District Court.

Leon Lloyd Whitcher, 49, declined to speak before Judge G. Todd Baugh said he would follow a plea agreement and impose a 30-year suspended prison sentence for felony sexual intercourse without consent.

Baugh said he believed the sentence appropriate for numerous reasons, including Whitcher's poor health and legal issues that could upend the case should it be tried and a conviction appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.

Baugh said Whitcher will be closely supervised for the rest of his life, which was important to the victim when she signed off on the plea agreement.

The suspended sentence will begin in 2010, when the former Shepherd man completes a 1989 sentence in another case involving the rape of a child. Whitcher spent 11 years in prison and was released on parole in 2000.

In 2005, Whitcher was arrested and charged with two counts of rape after two women said he raped and molested them as children between 1987 and 1989. Whitcher was held in the county jail until he pleaded guilty to one of the charges in March. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the second rape charge as part of the plea agreement, and both sides agreed to the 30-year suspended prison sentence.

Deputy County Attorney Ann-Marie McKittrick told Baugh on Wednesday that the plea agreement was based on several issues, including problems with evidence two decades after the crimes were committed. Whitcher's attorney also argued that the state's statute of limitations for such criminal charges could be used to overturn the conviction should the case go trial.

As part of the plea agreement, Whitcher will not be allowed to appeal the conviction to the Montana Supreme Court.

Defense attorney Robert Kelleher told Baugh that Whitcher suffers very serious medical problems, including leukemia and diabetes. Whitcher is blind, Kelleher said, and will require extensive medical care and treatment.

Whitcher previously completed a state sex offender treatment program while in prison, and he has agreed to continue with similar treatment, Kelleher said.

The allegations against Whitcher in both the recent and previous rape cases included bizarre accounts of satanic rituals.

In the 1989 case, Whitcher was convicted at trial of raping a 13-year-old girl who said she was given alcohol and a black robe and raped on a pentagram painted on the floor of a house outside Shepherd.

The jury acquitted Whitcher of a second rape charge, and a judge later sentenced him to 30 years in prison with 10 years suspended.

In the case filed more recently, the woman said she was repeatedly raped as a child by Whitcher. The abuse included demands that she dance naked on a star as Whitcher watched while wearing a black robe.

Prosecutors say difficult rape case led to deal

Of The Gazette Staff

March 30

A plea agreement reached this week with a dangerous child molester was the best possible outcome in a difficult case, prosecutors said Wednesday in reacting to public concerns.

A day after Leon Lloyd Whitcher was released from the county jail hours after pleading guilty to a felony sex offense, prosecutors said several legal issues clouded the case from its beginning more than two years ago.

Among prosecutors' concerns was the possibility that the state Supreme Court would accept a defense argument that the charges against Whitcher were invalid and would toss the case entirely.

"The reality is, we can't get justice until we get a conviction," said Deputy Yellowstone County Ann-Marie McKittrick, the lead prosecutor for the Whitcher case.

Whitcher, 48, is a convicted child molester who was sent to prison in 1989 for raping a 13-year-old girl during a satanic ritual.

As a result of that conviction, Whitcher was designated a Level 3 sex offender. The designation means that Whitcher is considered a high risk to commit further sex crimes and is a danger to the public.

Whitcher was released from prison and placed on probation in 2004, but he was charged with another crime and arrested the following year. The charges alleged that Whitcher raped a 7-year-old girl in the late 1980s.

During a brief hearing on Tuesday, Whitcher pleaded guilty to a felony sex offense for the sexual assault on the young girl. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors will dismiss a second felony sex charge and will recommend that Whitcher receive a 30-year suspended prison sentence at a hearing scheduled for May 20.

Because the plea agreement calls for a suspended prison sentence, prosecutors also agreed that Whitcher could be released without bond while awaiting sentencing. Whitcher had spent more than two years in the county jail while waiting for the case to be resolved.

Both of Whitcher's victims gave similar accounts of satanic rituals that accompanied the sexual abuse.