Amber Twp. man sentenced to jail for child abuse.

October 30, 2018

Matthew Visscher , left with defense attorney Ryan Glanville, center, and Prosecutor Paul Spaniola.

Amber Twp. man sentenced to jail for child abuse.

#MasonCountyCrime

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

LUDINGTON – A 52-year-old Amber Township man described as a “regular church attender” was sentenced to 30 days in jail Tuesday, Oct. 30, in 51st Circuit Court for a felony of third-degree child abuse.

Matthew Henry Visscher pleaded “no contest” last month, said Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola. Visscher was initially charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct, but that charge was dismissed in a plea agreement.

The case was heard before 79th District Court Judge Peter Wadel because both 51st Circuit Court Judge Susan K. Sniegowski and Probate/Chief Judge Jeffrey Nellis recused themselves, said Vissher’s attorney Ryan Glanville.

“There are disturbing factors in this case,” said Spaniola before a packed courtroom. The victim was a girl aged 15 at the time of the abuse. Visscher had “prior contacts with other teen girls,” he said, engaging in similar behavior. The prosecutor said he fondled the victim.

“The victim has sought counseling and made a suicide attempt,” he said. “There is an extreme lack of accountability on the part of the defendant, blaming the victim.” Spaniola said he’s “concerned with the defendant’s future performance. He denies any wrongdoing.”

Spaniola requested that the judge sentence Visscher to six months in jail. Sentencing guidelines in the case are 0-9 months.

Visscher has no prior criminal record, the prosecutor said. He’s been married more than 25 years; has a solid work history; and is a regular church attender. Many letters of support were sent to the court on his behalf.

“It’s clear there was no sexual penetration,” Spaniola said.

The victim addressed the court, reading an emotionally-charged poem she had written about the abuse. “Secret, secret oh how you hurt me,” she said. “I will keep you hidden. You will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

The victim stated that she will have nightmares for the rest of her life. She described Visscher’s “beard scratching against my chest and his hot breath on my neck.

“I could no longer be silent,” she said. “I felt dirty and terrified.

“I remember desperately trying to shut down, so I wouldn’t know what was happening. I still have to keep myself from jumping out of my skin when someone touches me unexpectedly.”

Visscher doesn’t have to register as a sex offender, she said. “To say that I was disappointed with this case would be an understatement. We both know I am telling the truth.”

“It’s thoroughly clear that they’re hurting and are very angry and they want justice in this case,” said Glanville of the victim and her supporters. His client took a plea deal to spare the victim of going through trial. “Then he’s getting blamed for taking away justice,” he said. “There is no guarantee he would have been convicted at trial. There were no witnesses, no physical evidence and a four-year gap in reporting.”

“There was an admission of not having a good memory, and several inconsistencies in her statement,” Glanville said.

“He’s now a convicted felon and is estranged from his church,” the attorney said. “He’s embarrassed, his family is embarrassed. His entire life is changed forever.”

Visscher underwent a sex offender evaluation, and the evaluator felt he is no risk to society, Glannville said.

“It is clear to this court among other things that you need to remember, Mr. Visscher, that by pleading ‘no contest,’ this court treats you as if you have been found guilty at trial or that you pleaded guilty,” said Judge Wadel. “After reviewing the facts in detail, I acknowledge this case was originally charged as a weak case.” The plea deal was “not a simple or convenient way out,” the judge said.

“Based on the testimony at the preliminary exam, a child abuse charge was appropriate,” Wadel said. “He was not cognizant of her distress.”

Wadel also sentenced Visscher 18 months probation, and he must have no contact with the victim. Visscher received credit for one day served in jail, and begins his jail term Monday, Nov. 5.

This story is copyrighted © 2018, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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