COLUMBIA CITY — Steven Slater, 64, was sentenced to 24 years in the Indiana Department of Corrections for rape during his sentencing hearing on Monday, Nov. 26.
The sentence was handed down after Slater pleaded guilty on Oct. 24 to one count of rape, following an incident in 2017 where Slater was accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl. The matter was slated to go to trial on Oct. 30 until Slater agreed to the plea.
During Monday’s sentencing hearing in the Whitley County Circuit Court, attorney Anthony Churchward cited this change of plea as Slater “accepting responsibility,” for the crime, even though Slater has maintained that his memory of that night is poor. Whitley County Prosecutor D.J. Sigler countered that claim by reading back various statements made by Slater throughout the investigation that suggested he was not empathetic to the victim’s suffering.
“Yes, he pleaded guilty, but he’s not accepted responsibility the way we believe that responsibility should be accepted,” Sigler said. “The way we say ‘I’m sorry,’ or say ‘I wish I hadn’t done this,’ or the way that we say ‘It never should have happened.’”
A key factor in the case was Slater’s claim that, at the time of the incident, he was allegedly intoxicated and has no memory of anything that happened. Additional information from the victim’s testimony appeared to corroborate that fact, but Sigler emphasized that alcohol use should not be considered as a mitigating factor.
Churchward also tried to appeal to the fact that Slater is currently 64 years old and most any sentence could equate spending the rest of his life behind bars. Referencing a handful of Slater’s family members in the audience offering support and his consistent employment, Churchward suggested probation as an option.
“Any long-term imprisonment is going to be a life sentence,” Churchward said. “Putting someone in prison for the rest of their life is a very harsh penalty and that’s whether a person is 20 years old or, in Mr. Slater’s case, 64 years old. Knowing you’re never going to see the light of day is a harsh penalty and should be reserved for heinous murders.”
Sigler, who referenced a letter written by the victim that was read for the court earlier in the proceedings, pointed out the harm and suffering inflicted at the hands of Slater.
“This 14-year-old girl in her statement writes what life has in store for her and what’s going to happen to her and how she’s going to look at the world because of his actions,” Sigler said. “I understand that this could amount to a life sentence, but some things deserve that. Some victims deserve that measure of justice.”
Slater’s extensive criminal history that included other violent crimes was also brought up as an aggravating factor in this case.
Before the decision was handed over to Judge Matthew Rentschler for a final sentence, Slater was allowed to address the court.
“I wish to assure the court, my family and friends that I am not a monster,” Slater said. “No one is more shocked of my actions than myself. I have suffered in my own personal hell. I am truly sorry.”
Afterwards, Rentschler considered each argument made by the attorneys as well as discussed what he perceived as additional mitigating and aggravating factors.
“This is a case whose sentence sort of assigns itself,” Rentschler said. “You have pleaded guilty to the rape of a child. It is almost automatic to look at the upper end of the sentencing spectrum in this case.”
Rentschler declined to use Slater’s age as a mitigating factor, noting that at his age he should have been aware of the consequences of his actions and should have had the sense to avoid any such violations. He also negated Churchward’s intoxication defense, emphasizing that even when under the influence of any substance, people are responsible for their actions.
“Intoxication is not a defense in our state,” Rentschler said. “When we get drunk or high, we are completely responsible for everything we do whether we remember it or not. You allowing yourself to become so intoxicated that you were able to rape a child without remembering it is reprehensible.”
In the end, Rentschler sentenced Slater to 15 years plus a sentence enhancement of nine years for being a repeat sexual offender for a total of 24 years to be served in its entirety in the Indiana Department of Corrections. Rentschler also declared Slater as a violent sexual predator and ruled that upon release, Slater will be required to register as such.