Free Soil man sentenced up to a year in jail for attempted CSC with minor.

December 16, 2014
Cook, left, with his attorney Gary Springstead.

Cook, left, with his attorney Gary Springstead.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — A 22-year-old Free Soil man was sentenced to one year in jail for having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl. Joseph Michael Cook, of 8010 N. Custer Rd., appeared in 51st Circuit Court Tuesday.

Cook was arrested Aug. 20 by Mason County Sheriff’s Office and charge with three counts of criminal sexual conduct third degree, each crime punishable by 15 years in prison. On Nov. 12, 2014, he pleaded no contest to a plea agreement of one count of attempted CSC second degree. He will serve no more than six months up front in the Mason County Jail, the remainder is discretionary. He will also not be allowed to have contact with the victim or her family and must serve five years probation and must register as a sex offender.

There are various stipulations to charge a person with CSC third degree, but in this case it was because the victim was at least 13-years-old and under 16-years-old. Pleading no contest means the defendant admits no guilt for the crime but the court can determine the punishment.

Cook accepted a sentencing agreement with Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Spaniola for the two charges of third degree be dropped in exchange for the one count of attempted CSC second degree.

CSC second degree also involves various stipulations but in this case is also because the victim was between 13 and 16. However CSC second degree only alleges sexual contact rather than penetration.

In a no contest plea, the court is allowed to establish fact finding based on police report transcripts. In the November hearing, Judge Richard Cooper read from the police reports:

He stated that Cook approached Mason County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Dice on March 18, 2014 indicating that “he wanted to talk to the officer. He expressed he had been hugging and kissing somebody and felt he should tell the police about it.” Sheriff’s Detective Shayne Eskew and Ludington Police Officer Aaron Saylor also became involved in the case, Cooper said.

“The defendant pointed out to (Det. Eskew) that he had been allowed to stay in the home of the victim off and on during the year 2013 and that the victim’s mother had become strongly angered with the defendant and had accused him of having sex with her daughter.”

Cooper continued that Cook had been presented with a phone containing text messages between him and the victim but denied responsibility. The victim told police that she and Cook had sex on four occasions, twice in the defendant’s car on West Johnson Road at the dead-end by the airport, once at her house and once at the home of a relative of the defendant’s.

“Based upon the information provided by the victim, the court finds there is a basis for the charges of CSC in the third degree and that there were three, maybe four, incidents,” Cooper said.

“This case has had an impact on the victim,” Spaniola said. “She has had to deal with the prospect of being sexually active at a very young age. It has also had a very serious impact on the victim’s mother, whom she lives with.”

Spaniola told the court that the victim had just turned 13 when the relationship began and the defendant was 21.

The victim’s mother addressed the court.

“Joe Cook was a good friend of my son for quite a long time and spent countless hours at our residence,” she said, adding that Cook had asked to stay at her home because he was having issues with his family. “I treated him like one of my own children…. I trusted him and he turned around and took advantage of my daughter.”

Cook’s attorney, Gary Springstead, said that Cook will have to live with being on the sex offender registration.

“He is not somebody that society should just cast away and put a Scarlett letter on the rest of his life. I think you need to ask yourself, what good is six months or a year or anything else?”

Springstead said Cook lost his job because of the case. He added that the recommendation for Cook to get counseling is “wise.”

Cook received a stern lecture from Judge Cooper.

“The age difference is substantial. It is called robbing the cradle,” Cooper said. “A person who is older that takes advantage of a young girl does so with awareness. It’s not as though the young person has the maturity to be the take charge person. Instead it’s the guy who is looked up to. By robbing the cradle he takes advantage of that age level of the person who is caught up in the frame of mind that she cares about him. She yields to what he wants. You get the intimate results that violate the law.

“The court can tell, by reading the investigations, the defendant nowhere has acknowledged that he has a role or responsibility to not rob the cradle. Instead each time he was confronted he said it was hugging and kissing and that was it.

“I don’t believe that she is somehow making that up,” Cooper said. “Everything we have has never come from the defendant. What that leaves us with is somebody who is not being accountable. He does have consequences both at the work level. He did betray the family that took him in.”

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