A judge sentenced to 60 years in prison this morning a teenager who had pleaded guilty of kidnapping, beating and sexually assaulting a neighbour in Spanish Lake on Nov. 11, 2005, when he was 13 and she was 6.
St. Louis County Circuit Judge Melvyn W. Wiesman imposed the sentence on Sherman Burnett Jr., now 15 and the youngest inmate ever housed in the county jail.
In imposing the lengthy sentence — Burnett will be ineligible for parole until at least the year 2056, when he is 64 — Wiesman rejected confining Burnett in a juvenile offender program in Montgomery City, Mo., where Burnett could have gotten a chance at probation as early as age 17.
Testimony this morning disclosed that Burnett had blamed, in part, the 6-year-old for his own misfortune and had denied any sexual assaults in a recent interview with a state employee, even though he had pleaded guilty on Aug. 10 of sodomy and attempted rape, along with child kidnapping and assault.
Brent Buerck is a senior program administrator for the Missouri Division of Youth Services. He testified that he interviewed Burnett to see if the teen would be eligible for a dual jurisdiction juvenile program of his agency and the Department of Corrections.
Under questioning by prosecutor Rob Livergood, Buerck said he was told by Burnett that the incident was caused because the victim had thrown a rock at him, and Burnett had denied he tried to rape her. Buerck confirmed that there was no evidence in any of the records or police reports he saw to substantiate Burnett’s new claims or to rebut the victim’s statements about the attack on Nov. 11, 2005.
Buerck said, however, that it was not unusual for a teenager to minimize his crimes, and Burnett had qualified for the program. Buerck added under Livergood’s questioning that Burnett had told him: “he beat her up severely so she wouldn’t remember anything.”
Under the juvenile offender program sought by defence attorney Nellie Ribaudo, Burnett would get counseling, sex offender treatment and education that he couldn’t get in prison. He would have hearings when he turned 17 to see if he should continue in the program and again at 21. In that hearing, Buerck said, a judge would decide if Burnett was eligible for probation or would be turned over to the prison system for the balance of his sentence.
Wiesman rejected juvenile custody, saying Burnett was an inappropriate candidate “in light of the severity of the assault and what appears to be a threat to the community.”
The judge then sentenced Burnett to 20 years in prison each on counts of child kidnapping and assault; and 10 years each on charges of sodomy and atttempted rape. The sentences are to be served consecutively and Burnett will be ineligible for parole until he serves 85 percent or 51 years.
Burnett showed no emotion when Wiesman pronounced sentence. Seven members of his family appeared stunned. Also in court this morning were the victim and her mother. They made no oral statement.
From her hospital bed at St. Louis Children’s Hospital two days after the assault, the victim picked out Burnett from a school yearbook picture. She had half an ear torn off, a lascerated liver, a skull fracture and bruises from the top of her head to her thighs.
She told police she couldn’t walk after the attack. She crawled through a hole in a fence near railroad tracks but could go no further and, as night descended in woods near her house, she tried to cover herself with leaves. A police officer found her the next morning after a massive neighborhood search.