STROUDSBURG — It could be a year before former Monroe County state Republican committeeman John Curtin knows whether he will have to serve six to 18 months in Monroe County Correctional Facility, followed by a year’s probation, for sexually molesting a 17-year-old boy outside a Stroudsburg hotel in August 2005.
County Judge Jerome Cheslock on Monday sentenced Curtin, but stayed his sentence pending the appeal process, which could take up to a year, according to attorneys.
This means Curtin will remain free on bail while appealing to state Superior Court to overturn a March jury conviction.
He was found guilty of renting a room where an underage drinking party took place and sexually molesting a drunk victim outside the hotel. If he loses his appeal, he will be sent back to county court for sentencing.
Curtin, who was 20 at the time of the incident, says the only things he’s guilty of are renting the room and underage drinking, and that the victim was the one who came on to him.
He has been free on bail since his 2005 arrest and reportedly has stayed out of trouble while attending an alcohol abuse treatment program, doing all the work for his ailing grandfather in the family deli and making the East Stroudsburg University dean’s list. He also stepped down from his Republican committee post after being convicted.
Curtin, his family and supporters asked the judge for leniency Monday, saying he has “held his head high,” shown remorse for his actions, displayed strength of character and been an asset to the community, all in the face of controversy and public criticism.
“Your Honor, I never imagined in a million years that I would be standing before you today as a convicted sex offender,” Curtin said. “This was a neighborhood party. Everyone at that party lived within 1,000 yards (walking distance, so no one would have to drive home).
“I was the fool for renting the room,” he said. “I have taken full responsibility (for renting the room and underage drinking). I made a youthful error in judgment, yet I’ve been held to this bizarre higher standard.
“I’m a productive citizen,” he said. “I’m pursuing spiritual growth through my sobriety program. I follow the laws that govern us.”
Family members and friends, who had written letters to the judge on Curtin’s behalf, addressed the court, saying the humiliation of being in the public eye is punishment enough without a prison sentence.
“John’s lost everything,” said his tearful brother, Josh Curtin. “To put him in jail over something he didn’t do is ridiculous. The only person who knows what happened is God.”
Curtin’s equally tearful mother, Shari Curtin, said, “Our family has suffered tremendously. John has support from many who do not believe this one-sided, far-fetched set of events.”
Former East Stroudsburg school board member Michal Peterson said Curtin, unlike many other young people who make mistakes, is willing to take responsibility for and learn from his own.
“John has used his own experience to counsel others on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse,” Peterson said. “He sat down with my daughter, who was bound for Penn State, and told her about those dangers which she likely will encounter on campus. He is truly a person who deserves a second chance.”
Family friend Regina Ericson fondly described Curtin as “a geeky kind of kid” who worked to get good grades in school and avoided the wrong crowd until the isolated incident that led to him being charged and ultimately convicted.
Ericson discussed how Curtin had few friends his age until finding his passion in politics and joining the Republican Party, which he enriched with his bright promise and ambition.
“John does not need to be incarcerated,” she said. “As someone who gives back to the community, he needs his horizons to stay open rather than be closed down. For a young man who’s already paid a huge price, (prison) is asking way too much.”
Although the victim’s family and friends likewise had written letters to the judge, the only one present in court Monday to speak on his behalf was his mother, who declined to be identified.
“I can’t even begin to tell you the nightmare our family has been through,” she said, adding that her son has suffered mental and emotional issues since the incident.
“John hurt my child and he should pay, just like any other criminal. My son told the truth about what happened and would have had nothing to gain by lying. He looked up to John and believed in him and now that dream has been shattered.
“My son is now afraid to leave the house out of fear of retaliation,” she said. “We now live in another state. He’s graduating high school this year and plans to go to college far away.”
Citing other court cases, defense attorney James Swetz said mitigating circumstances in Curtin’s favor make this an “atypical” sexual assault case justifying a lesser-than-typical sentence (county jail or probation, as opposed to state prison).
Swetz cited the following mitigating factors:
Curtin’s behavior since his arrest following the incident and the fact that he has not tested positive for alcohol or drug use during that time.
The incident occurred in the space of only four or five seconds. The victim was able to push Curtin away from him, was not physically harmed or intimidated in any way and did not communicate any lack of consent.
The victim gave conflicting statements, at one point saying Curtin put his penis in his mouth and at another point saying Curtin put his mouth on his penis.
The prosecution has no basis for saying the incident has affected the victim mentally, since he reportedly had been taking medication prior to the incident for attention deficit hyperactive disorder (though his mother said he had not taken such medication in years).
Curtin is not deemed a sexually violent predator, which is worse than a sexual offender, but his offender status would earn him trouble from other inmates in state prison as opposed to county jail.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Rakaczewski said the case is not atypical and should be treated like any other sexual assault case, noting the jury convicted Curtin of a felony justifying the standard sentence for such a crime (three to four and a half years in state prison).
Rakaczewski cited a mental expert’s evaluation showing Curtin, while not deemed a sexually violent predator, engaged in predatorial behavior when molesting the victim.
Rakaczewski also opposed the defense’s request for a stay of sentence, saying Curtin should be made to serve his sentence immediately in order to bring some sense of closure to the victim and his family.
“I’m convinced this incident would not have occurred if there had been no alcohol present,” the judge said when imposing sentence. “But, I am not convinced a state prison sentence fits what happened here.”
With that, Curtin’s supporters displayed silent approval in the courtroom and hugged him afterward.
While Curtin appeals the jury verdict, Rakaczewski said the prosecution will appeal the judge’s stay of sentence and dismissal of one count against Curtin prior to sentencing.
“This was David against Goliath and Goliath won,” the victim’s mother said afterward in reaction to the judge’s ruling.