CAMBRIDGE – Seth A. Shipley, 39, of Geneseo was sentenced on Friday in Henry County Circuit Court to 120 years in prison for predatory criminal sexual assault of a child.
He will have to serve 85 percent of the sentence, according to truth-in-sentencing laws.
Shipley entered an open plea to four counts of criminal sexual assault filed Oct. 19, 2017, and 49 counts child pornography filed March 12, 2018. Shipley met the child through a gymnastics class he was teaching for the Geneseo park district.
Judge Jeffrey O'Connor, in imposing the sentence, noted that it could have ranged to over 300 years.
“I don't know, from mental illness to pedophilia, that's a huge leap, and it's a leap from which I don't think anybody has ever come back,” he said.
Henry County State's Attorney Matt Schutte read a statement written by the victim, now 10, in which she talked about having trouble going to sleep, awful nightmares, difficulty keeping up her schoolwork, her fear of the bloodwork every three or four months done to ensure she didn't have sexually transmitted diseases and the feeling there was nowhere to run and hide.
“Sometimes I wish I wasn't here anymore,” she wrote in her statement. “I lost almost all my friends. I guess people don't want kids to play with garbage like me.”
She describes asking her grandmother if she will ever be normal again and asking if she is too broken to be fixed.
She says Shipley ruined activities, including riding her bike, and she no longer goes on sleepovers with friends “because they have a dad, a man who could hurt me.”
She talked about her old self, the one who enjoyed gymnastics, dance, cheerleading and Girl Scouts and playing in the park and was polite and respectful. “I'm almost 100 percent the opposite and I don't like myself at all,” she reflected. “I've changed for the worse completely.”
The mother of the victim read a letter, noting she wanted to scream and yell and cuss at Shipley for what was a “horrible roller-coaster that as of now seems to be never-ending.”
“This whole family is pushed to the point of no return,” she said. She added that her formerly very sweet, loving, outgoing, adventurous daughter had changed.
“Seth would buy her things and make her think she was the most special girl in the world, but it was all a ruse,” she said.
She said he has stolen her childhood and forced sexual acts on her that were all for his own gratification, noting she was just seven years old when it began.
“Physically, my daughter is okay,” she said. “Mentally and emotionally, I don't know if she will ever heal. She's scared of everything and everyone. Scared to be around any man at all.”
She said that includes her own grandfather. “She has always been (his) girl. Now she wants absolutely nothing to do with him most of the time. My brother, either.”
She said her daughter can be set off by the smallest things into meltdowns that involve sobbing, yelling or throwing things. They are trying counseling and psychiatry to teach her skills to process what had happened to her.
“We're praying that once this is said and done maybe, just maybe, she will never have to worry about him hurting her ever again,” she said.
She said as a mother she felt she failed her child and that she wasn't there to protect her. She characterized her daughter as a hero for coming forward and speculated her daughter was probably not Shipley's first victim, but she might be his last.
The victim's grandmother said the child was now a fretful, depressed, angry little girl who lost her innocence, self-respect and love of life. Nightmares can wake them up now.
“Many nights we have to sit up the rest of the night,” she said.
She said the family had interviewed people who knew Shipley and had known him and the results came back clean. They thought she would be safe with him.
“I learned one important lesson. Just because someone doesn't have a record, it doesn't mean they're clean. It just means they haven't been caught yet,” she said.
She said her granddaughter's fear of men extends not only to relatives but also to doctors, dentists, teachers and coaches.
“I'll never forgive myself for not protecting her from this man,” she said.
Schutte said he felt the 120-year sentence was the minimum required by law, and the sentences on the remaining 51 counts would run concurrently. A $1,000 fine on the remaining counts would be reduced to judgment, meaning they exist but prosecutors would not bring Shipley to court regularly to seek them.
Schutte said the victim's statement was “about as powerful a statement about the effects on her that can be made.”
He called Shipley delusional and narcissistic, noting he had claimed the victim initiated the sex when she was seven by sitting in his lap. “That's absurd,” he said. “He believed he should be given a warning to correct his behavior rather than be arrested.”
The judge had words of hope for the victim's family, suggesting what seems like a nightmare without escape right now would turn into “inner strength and tools available to you that isn't available to 99 percent of the other population” and that she may be able to use this strength in an occupation.
”Don't lose faith. Don't lose hope,” he said.
He talked of letters he received from Shipley's relatives that talked of his childhood from a broken home and how he reached out to the victim to lend her something that she didn't have, a father figure. He asked whether fathers have sex with their seven-year-old daughters.
“Really? A father figure? Mr. Shipley, you're in this for yourself. Your only regret here is you got caught,” he said.