Prosecutors seek 15-year prison term for ex-athletic trainer
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Federal prosecutors compared a 79-year-old ex-high school athletic trainer in Montana to another high-profile pedophile defendant, Larry Nassar, in seeking the maximum penalty after he admitted coercing high school boys into sexual abuse over decades.
The U.S. attorney’s office is asking a judge to sentence James Jensen to 15 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, more than the federal sentencing guidelines’ range of up to eight years.
U.S District Judge Dana Christensen has scheduled a sentencing hearing for next Tuesday in Billings.
Jensen’s public defender, Steven Babcock, did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday. Babcock asked Christensen to give him until Friday to file a response to prosecutors’ sentencing memo submitted last week, and wrote that he planned to visit Jensen in prison on Wednesday.
Prosecutors said Jensen sexually abused high school boys throughout his nearly 30-year career and told the student athletes it was part of a massage program to boost their performance.
Jensen pleaded guilty in March to a charge of coercion and enticement. The time limit for charging him with sexual abuse had expired.
Jensen was a trainer at Custer County District High School in Miles City from the 1970s until about 1998. The federal indictment was filed in December and focused on Jensen’s actions from 1995 until 1999.
Thirty-two people have accused Jensen of abuse, and both prosecutors and Jensen’s public defender say there were many more victims.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zeno Baucus said in the sentencing memo that Jensen’s crimes merit a more substantial punishment than the sentencing guidelines, even though Jensen has no criminal record. He said Jensen’s case is “strikingly similar” to that of Nassar, the former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics sports doctor suspected of abusing hundreds of girls.
Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison for receipt and possession of child pornography and obstruction of justice.
Baucus also cited the 18-year prison sentence given to Stanley Patrick Weber earlier this year. The former Indian Health Services pediatrician was convicted of sexually abusing boys on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and also faces accusations on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
“Jensen used these victims for his own sexual gratification and hid his true intentions behind an alleged massage program,” Baucus wrote. “It is his deranged character that concocted a scheme to take advantage of kids.”
This story has been updated to correct that prosecutors are asking for a 15-year prison sentence.