District Court Judge Steven Boyce sentenced Chet K. Neilson, who pled guilty to felony rape in September 2019, to 15 years in prison and 10 years indeterminate in Teton County Court on Tuesday.
The sentencing was higher than the state’s recommendation of a 10-year fixed prison term. Upon release from prison, Neilson must register as a sex offender.
Neilson, a 32-year-old St. Anthony man, was charged with the Aug. 4, 2017, rape and battery of a 26-year-old woman in the Victor City Park. A criminal complaint filed by Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Billie Siddoway said the victim resisted the rape, but she was overcome by force or violence. The complaint said that Neilson inflicted great bodily injury to the victim.
The courtroom that afternoon was filled with more than 50 people, most of whom were there to support the victim. Besides legal council, the only two people who spoke before the sentencing were the victim and Neilson.
“I do not speak on behalf of myself,” the victim said while reading her victim-impact statement. “But for the community, my friends, my family, the lawyers, the doctors, business owners and for people around the world.”
In a clear voice, the victim spent almost 25 minutes giving voice to family and friends who had written to her and to the court in support of her, the Teton Valley community and the legal system in the hopes that the greatest sentence possible would be levied that afternoon.
“I know I don’t stand alone,” she said. “They don’t just speak for me, but for everyone else.”
She challenged the judge to set an example of justice.
“None of us should fear his return to society with a slap of the wrist,” the victim said. “The community is invested in the outcome of this case. Teton Valley, Idaho, can set an example.”
At the end of her statement she talked about her personal struggle since the time of the crime.
“I’m worried I’ll never feel safe again,” she said. “I fought desperately for my life. I felt like I failed myself. I thought I let myself down. Being told, ‘I’ll kill you if you don’t stop screaming.’ I was not ready to die. I can still taste the salt from his hands as he covered my mouth. I was not ready to give up my life. I’m still not ready to give up my life.”
Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Richard Friess recommended a 10-year fixed prison sentence and 15 years indeterminate. Defense attorney Sean Moulton with Moulton Law in Driggs agreed that punishment was warranted in this case, but also asked the court to consider rehabilitation.
“It is completely (Neilson’s) fault that we are here today,” Moulton said. “He does have a supportive family here. His mother and father and siblings are here today, but the defendant needs light at the end of the tunnel and they all need hope for better days. There are a lot of dark days ahead of him and probably deservedly so.”
Before the sentencing, Neilson stood with his head down and hands cuffed in front of him and said he was sorry to the victim, to his family and to the community.
Judge Boyce pointed to psychosexual report, which was closed to public disclosure. The judge noted that the Neilson lied in his polygraph tests and had a poor prognosis for rehabilitation. The judge recognized Neilson’s family support, the fact that he did not have a criminal history and that he was able to maintain a job.
“You committed a shocking crime,” Boyce said. “This is one of worst things I’ve seen and that includes my seven years as a prosecutor. You raped a random stranger. This rape was so violent that she was fighting for her life. After it happened if it was not for DNA technology, I think you would have gotten away with it. Over two years, no one knew. Now we know. It was you.”