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Eye on Boise: Idaho has incarcerated 223 for statutory rape since 1972

Betsy Z. Russell. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Betsy Z. Russell. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Betsy Z Russell Idaho Press-Tribune

Gov. Butch Otter’s recent pardon of a man who had been convicted of the statutory rape of his underage girlfriend when he was 18 raised an interesting question: How many others has Idaho convicted and sent to prison for the same offense?

According to Idaho Department of Correction records, 223 individuals have entered the state corrections system since 1972 for felony statutory rape. Most were in the 1990s, the same era in which Aaron M. Bonney was convicted. Only one had a more recent sentence date, in 2012; that offender already has been released. No one is currently in IDOC custody on that charge.

Bonney was convicted in 1997 of statutory rape of his 15-year-old girlfriend, when Bonney was 18. He received a seven-year prison sentence but completed a six-month rider program at the North Idaho Correctional Institution at Cottonwood and then was released on probation. Otter, whose decision to pardon Bonney followed a recommendation from the state Commission for Pardons and Parole, said it was a “serious crime” but that Bonney had paid his debt to society and “placed himself on a path devoted to bettering his life and taking responsibility for his past mistakes.”

Idaho changed its statutory rape law in 2010; prior to that, the law defined sexual relations with a woman under the age of 18 as rape, regardless of whether it was consensual; the penalties were the same as for forcible rape and carried a requirement to register for life as a sex offender.

Under the 2010 law change, the definition of rape was revised to include sexual relations with a woman under the age of 16 by a man who is 18 or older; or with a 16- or 17-year-old female by a man who is three or more years older than the female. Idaho’s male rape statutes also were amended to match.

Under the changed law, Bonney’s case still would have qualified as rape.

The bipartisan legislation in 2010 passed the Senate unanimously but drew extensive debate and 14 “no” votes in the House. The Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposed the change, arguing that prosecutorial discretion would ensure no one was inappropriately charged, and saying the law as-is protected Idaho children. At the time, 35 other states already had 16 as the age of consent.

Among those who testified in favor of the bill in committee was the then-chair of the state Board of Correction, Robin Sandy, who told lawmakers that in Idaho’s prisons, she’d seen multiple cases of young men incarcerated for consensual sex, changing their lives forever.

Little names transition team

Idaho Gov.-elect Brad Little has named a 16-member transition committee to help him vet applicants for top state jobs in his new administration. The committee, chaired by Brian Wonderlich, a partner at the Boise law firm Holland & Hart, is being charged with providing Little “a short list for every one of these positions,” Little said.

“It was with great forethought that we composed this team of leaders from around the state to help assist with my transition to governor,” Little said in a statement. “My committee and I are dedicated to finding the right candidates to fill each agency position. Those hired will aid in our commitment to create the best possible atmosphere to keep Idaho’s kids here and allow those who have left to return.”

In addition to Wonderlich, committee members are:

    Wiley Dobbs, Twin Falls, former superintendent, Twin Falls School District

    Bill Gilbert, Boise, co-founder and managing director, The Caprock Group Inc.

    Cally Grindstaff, Fairfield, retired VP of corporate relations/organization development, Clear Springs Food

    Tom Harris, Meridian, president, Western States CAT

    Debbie Hetherington, Boise, retired owner and partner, Premier Insurance

    Joy Kealey, Boise, vice president, Silver Creek Holding Co.; co-owner, Chicago Connection

    Pete Koehler, Caldwell, retired chief deputy, state Department of Education

    Tom Lovell, Boise, president, Professional Firefighters of Idaho

    Edward Miller, Boise, partner, Givens Pursley

    Vicki Risch, Boise, former first lady of Idaho

    Megan Ronk, Meridian, director, business innovation and development, Idaho Power; former director, Idaho Department of Commerce

    Kevin Settles, Boise, owner, Bardenay

    Cindy Siddoway, Mud Lake, rancher, Republican national committeewoman

    Tom Stoeser, Coeur d’Alene, CEO, Riverbend Commerce Park

    Ben Ysursa, Boise, former Idaho secretary of state

At Little’s transition website, govelect.idaho.gov, he’s posted a full list of the top positions available in his administration, along with an application for people to complete and send in; he’s asking all agency heads who want to stay on to reapply. “I even filled out an application for governor on it, because I wanted to see how it works,” Little said.

He noted that there’s no “submit” button; after completing the application, applicants will need to sign and submit them via email, mail or hand delivery to his transition office at the Alexander House.

Voter turnout was high

According to the official canvass of votes in the Nov. 6 election, 66.75 percent of Idaho’s registered voters turned out, the highest for a midterm election since 1994; 612,536 ballots were cast statewide. The highest turnout was reported in Blaine County at 76.38 percent; the lowest in Madison County at 44.53 percent.

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said, “The most Democratic county in the state turned out the highest, the most Republican county in the state turned out the lowest.” He added, “I don’t know that that means anything.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state Capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.