CHALLIS — After a three-and-a-half hour sentencing hearing, Travis Leavitt was sentenced to 25 years in prison for raping a 17-year-old Challis girl on June 17, 2019.
Judge Stevan Thompson handed down the sentence after hearing recommendations from the attorneys. Custer County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Oleson recommended a term of 40 years to life and Fred Snook, Leavitt’s lawyer, asked for at most six years.
Oleson said that because Leavitt is a repeat offender with a penchant for committing sexual assaults shortly after being released from a detention facility he should stay in prison for a long time.
Leavitt’s first conviction came in 2000 for lewd conduct with a minor. Shortly after his release for that crime, Leavitt committed rape in 2006 in Twin Falls County, for which he served 12 years. Leavitt left prison and he came to live and work in Challis, where he committed his third offense in June 2019, less than a year after being released.
Oleson claimed the pattern of behavior shows Leavitt has no remorse for his indecent behavior and that he will likely rape again if given the chance.
“He is a danger, he is a re-offender,” Oleson said to Judge Thompson. “He is a high, high risk.” Oleson said if Leavitt is imprisoned until he is in his 70s, he either wouldn’t have the desire or the ability to assault women.
Snook argued that Oleson’s recommendation was too punitive given the crime. He said Leavitt still has the potential to be a contributing member of society if he can learn to control his urges. Snook argued the best thing for Leavitt is to send him to a state hospital for mental health treatment before serving a sentence of five to six years.
“I know I have issues,” Leavitt said when it came time for him to address Thompson. “I know in my past I have made mistakes. I own those mistakes.”
Leavitt claimed his behavior is a result of his upbringing. His father, Richard Leavitt, murdered and mutilated a woman in Blackfoot in 1984, the same year his son was born. Leavitt’s father was arrested a month after he was born and was sentenced to death. He was executed in 2012.
Without a paternal influence in his life, combined with the shame of being related to a murderer and a lifetime behind bars, Leavitt and his lawyer argued he is a product of a bad environment.
Thompson also heard emotional testimony from family members of both the victim and Leavitt. The judge said his decision takes into account this particular case and not the crimes of a younger Leavitt or his father.
Thompson repeatedly said the linchpin of his decision was Leavitt’s grooming behavior before the incident. Rapists will often ply their victims beforehand, offering them gifts and compliments to appear friendly. In the weeks leading up to the rape, Leavitt gave his victim candy, marijuana and constant attention through social media. He tried to isolate the victim from her friends and family by speaking divisively of them, which Thompson pointed out is another giveaway.
“I think the testimony established a lot of grooming behavior,” Thompson said, referring in particular to the testimonies of the victim and her best friend that were given at Leavitt’s trial in February.
Thompson said he tried to put the incident in the context of Leavitt’s life, but he couldn’t reconcile it.
“Protection of society is the primary objective of the courts,” Thompson said, and he acknowledged the possibility of Leavitt committing another crime.
It is obvious Leavitt committed rape last year, the judge said, and the fact that Leavitt maintained his innocence to the end only added insult to injury.
Thompson gave Leavitt 25 years with the possibility of parole after 15. Leavitt can appeal the sentence within 42 days.