ST. GEORGE — A Cedar City man whose light sentencing in a 2017 child sex abuse case sparked community outrage appeared in court Tuesday, where he was sentenced to prison after violating the terms of his probation while living in Indiana.
John Benjamin Gehrich, 21, appeared in 5th District Court to be sentenced for violating the terms of probation stemming from his September 2017 conviction on three second-degree felony counts of sex abuse of a child. The prison term was suspended at that point, and instead Gehrich was placed on probation, which he admittedly violated when he failed to properly register as a sex offender while living in Indiana, as well as violating other conditions of his probation.
On Tuesday, the defendant was sentenced to serve 1-15 years in Utah State Prison on each of the original threes counts. The terms will run concurrently.
The probation stemmed from a 2017 conviction for sexually assaulting three siblings between the ages of 3 and 8 in Cedar City. Gehrich inappropriately touched the three children when he was momentarily left alone with them while visiting a neighbor’s home, according to court records. The children subsequently told their parents and authorities what happened.
Prior to sentencing in 2017, Iron County prosecutors struck a deal with Gehrich that lowered the severity of the felonies and gave him a 15-year maximum prison term, a plea agreement that was diverted from during sentencing when the judge presiding over the case sentenced him to serve 210 days in the county jail followed by 36 months of probation. The defendant was subsequently placed on probation and ordered to register as a sex offender.
According to court records, an interstate compact agreement was signed between Utah and Indiana on April 20, 2018, which allowed the defendant to complete his probation requirements in Logansport, Indiana, where he would reside with his parents and have “24-hour guidance and observation,” the affidavit said.
Three weeks later, Logansport Police in Indiana were dispatched to a residence on a report of a suspicious male, and while speaking to the children’s mother, officers learned that a man approached two young girls who were riding bikes in the alley near their home. The girls told police the man asked them where they lived and where they got their bikes. The children became afraid and ran home where they told one of the girls’ parents.
The officer also interviewed the parent, who said she was outside several days before the incident when a man approached her, said he was new to the area and needed to make money, and asked if she needed anyone to mow her lawn or watch her children.
A short time later, one of the parents received the sex offender registration information along with a photo of Gehrich. The parent showed the photo to the two girls, asking if they had ever seen the man, which is when they identified the defendant as the man who approached them in the alley.
The defendant lived within five blocks of the children when the incident took place, the declaration in support of the warrant said.
When questioned by Indiana police, Gehrich allegedly admitted to saying hi to the two girls, which was a violation of his probation in addition to his failure to register as an offender, but he denied asking the girls any questions.
He was arrested and charged with a felony sex offense involving a child and was serving his sentence in Indiana when Utah was contacted and advised of the situation, at which point Utah Adult Probation and Parole began extradition proceedings and sent the following response to Indiana:
It is with our deepest apology that this was not brought to the courts attention when it occurred in May of 2018. It is clear that the defendant struggles to obey the group A sex offender guideline while on probation as a compact probationer to the state of Indiana.
Gehrich was then held without bail in Iron County until the sentencing hearing.
When asked if the defendant would likely be released after serving one year in prison, Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson said that second-degree felonies in Utah carry the indeterminate sentencing where the range is broad, as is the case with Gehrich’s sentence.
He added that any comment on his part would be only “speculation” and that once the defendant is placed in the custody of Utah State Prison, any release recommendations are completely left up to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.
Dotson also said that several elements are taken into account when determining if an inmate should be paroled or not, including the presentence investigation report that was ordered by the court prior to sentencing the defendant, as well as the nature of the charges the defendant was convicted of, their conduct while incarcerated, any treatment completed and other factors that are evaluated when determining if parole is appropriate.
In this case, Gehrich will be up for parole review after one year of incarceration.
“It would be unlikely that he would be released after a year, and it is certainly our hope that he will be in there for much longer than that,” Dotson said.
The defendant was ordered to begin serving his prison sentence immediately, and the transport order was signed during Tuesday’s hearing.
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