POCATELLO — A 51-year-old Pocatello man who pleaded guilty in April to sexually abusing several children while he was their mental health counselor was sentenced to serve 25 years in prison during a hearing at the Bannock County Courthouse Tuesday afternoon.
James McGahey, the former president of Still Waters Outreach, a now-defunct family counseling business in west Pocatello, received the lengthy prison sentence after pleading guilty on April 15 to one count of lewd conduct with a minor child under the age of 16 and one count of sexual abuse of a minor child under the age of 16.
In handing down the sentence, 6th District Judge Stephen Dunn said the allegations against McGahey are immensely significant because McGahey was the court-ordered counselor for the five child victims and took advantage of his position of trust.
“This case is amplified in seriousness because you were in a position of trust,” Dunn said. “I’d feel the same way if it were a school teacher, a religious leader or someone who is in a position of trust and is supposed to be offering help, but instead takes advantage of, traumatizes and abuses those who are hoping to get help. That makes this infinitely worse.”
McGahey will serve no less than 12 years in prison before he is eligible for parole, at which point he could spend another 13 years incarcerated before his actual release. The unified and concurrent sentence of 25 years in prison for both sex crimes was significantly less than the aggregate 75-year prison sentence Bannock County Deputy Prosecutor Brian Trammell requested in court Tuesday.
Trammel bolstered his sentencing recommendation with argument that centered around the very dangerous nature of McGahey’s actions and behavior, coupled with the importance of protecting society from any future abuse at McGahey’s hands and the likelihood McGahey would re-offend.
“It is important to set out how dangerous of a man James McGahey really is,” Trammell said. “The state believes he is absolutely a high-risk to re-offend. The victims in this case came to James McGahey for help, for treatment. What they didn’t realize at the time was they were going into the hands of a very dangerous individual. His behavior was egregious, inexcusable and his victims could experience the pain and consequences of Mr. McGahey’s actions not only for years to come — but possibly the rest of their lives.”
One of the five victims involved in this case provided an impact statement in court Tuesday, however Dunn ordered the statement exempt from public disclosure.
Prior to his recommendation, Trammell provided a generalized account of the nature of McGahey’s abuse during counseling sessions, which included McGahey touching the children inappropriately in a sexual manner, forcing the children to touch themselves sexually while he watched and attempting to record the sexual interactions with security cameras installed at the counseling facility.
McGahey also instructed some of the children to think of their own family members while touching themselves sexually, Trammell said.
While conducting court-ordered urinary analyses of at least three of the five children to screen for drug use, McGahey would position them near a mirror so that he could stare at their genitals, Trammel said. One of the victims told authorities that McGahey performed various sexual acts on another unidentifiable witness on three separate occasions, Trammell added.
After the sexual incidents occurred, McGahey would tell the children that they were not legally allowed to discuss with anyone what had happened during the sessions, and when some children resisted the encounters he would tell them it was completely normal, comparing the actions to showering with teammates on a sports team.
“A huge aggravating factor in this case is that James McGahey was acting as a trusted treatment provider,” Trammell said. “He was acting in a role of trust, authority and power. He planned, schemed, groomed and manipulated the victims over a period of several years. This was not a one-time occurrence.”
McGahey initially faced 11 counts of possessing child pornography in March 2017, but the charges were dismissed because authorities could not directly link McGahey to the pornographic images stored on a computer at the Still Waters Outreach facility. The investigation did lead to a subsequent police investigation; however, which culminated with authorities discovering McGahey actually sexually abused several of the children he had been tasked with counseling.
Several Bannock County prosecutors who were not directly involved with handling McGahey’s case attended the sentencing hearing from the galley and were present when a visibly emotional McGahey addressed the court. Expressing sentiments of remorse and accountability, McGahey said perhaps the only way for the victims in this case to feel any sense of safety or security is if he disappears entirely.
“I’ve spent my life taking care of other people and somewhere along the way I hurt these kids,” McGahey said. “I wake up in the morning and go to bed trying to figure out a way to make this right and there is no way. If I was not around anymore maybe that would make it right. I can say I am not going to do it again, but I know I can never gain that trust back. Saying sorry to these victims does nothing because I know there is no way to make this right.”
In addition to the lengthy prison term, Dunn ordered McGahey to pay court fees, attorney fees and at least $5,000 in restitution to each of the five victims. Dunn also renewed no-contact orders between McGahey and the victims that will not expire until McGahey is released from prison and successfully satisfies the length of his parole term, if applicable. He must also register as a sex offender upon his release from prison.
And with his concluding remarks before adjourning the hearing, Dunn repeated a claim he had made before when ruling on an abuse case, which was that in some cases child abuse is more damaging to the victims and their families than a murder case can be.
“Abuse of any kind is in some ways worse than a murder case,” Dunn said. “The significance of saying that is that when murder occurs a person is dead and they don’t have to endure that anymore. In abuse cases that is not true.”
Dunn continued, “I’ve seen the aftermath of abuse — child, adult, elder — it almost doesn’t matter to a degree. But in some ways child abuse is the worst because they don’t understand it, they feel guilty and they feel like they are a problem when they are not in any way shape or form. But they still feel it. ... The aftermath of abuse is a horrible scourge on our society. ... There is a dark spot in your life, Mr. McGahey. There is a dark spot in your soul and these children are victims of your dark spot.”