LOCKPORT – A Lockport man who sexually abused a girl for more than a year, starting when she was 6 years old, was sentenced to 10 years’ probation Friday by Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon, who could have sent him to prison for seven years for second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child.
However, Sheldon rejected strenuous arguments from Assistant Public Defender A. Joseph Catalano to grant youthful offender status to Benjamin Free, 22, of Elmwood Avenue. Free was eligible because the crimes began six years ago, when he was 16. They lasted from February 2009 through June 2010.
“Granting YO and putting him on probation, it’s like this never happened,” Sheldon said. She acknowledged that Free had been rated by a psychologist as posing a “moderate to low risk” to reoffend, but she also said Free had admitted to a doctor that he had molested other children.
Catalano said Free had been abused emotionally and physically, but not sexually, as a child. He said there had been no further molestations in the past five years, and Free is now engaged to be married. Catalano also noted that probation officers are willing to work with Free.
“Yes, but who’s going to work with (the victim)?” Sheldon replied. As a 16-year-old, he destroyed her.”
The girl wrote a letter saying she had tried suicide and had nightmares so severe she had to be put on drug therapy. Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco said, “It’s unfair to the community and (the girl) to seal this.”