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Plea bargain in sex case raises questions

Former sheriff's deputy Alfred "Chip" Huskey admitted having sex with the teenage daughter of his ex-wife on the living room floor of the Ceres home he shared with a woman who supervises probationers in Stanislaus County. For that, he recently was sentenced to a year in county jail.

The victim, now 27, told authorities Huskey molested her from ages 3 to 11, when Huskey was married to her mother and lived in their Riverbank home. She alleged that Huskey, 47, didn't go "all the way" until a few years later, when she and a younger brother had a slumber party in Huskey's new home.

The woman's story came out years after the alleged incidents as she struggled to overcome drug addiction, according to court records, and she was unable to pinpoint the date of the sexual encounter or her age at the time.

In a phone call that was recorded by detectives, the woman recalled the sexual encounter and inappropriate rubbing by Huskey when she was 3 or 4. In return, Huskey talked about an unhappy marriage that prompted him to drink too much and use methamphetamine.

Huskey also encouraged the woman to call him if she needed to talk, saying he would get in trouble if she shared her memories with counselors, who have a duty to report allegations of abuse, according to a tape and transcript of the conversation, both of which were provided by the woman.

"I would get arrested, go to jail, most likely go to prison," Huskey said.

That conversation gave prosecutors enough corroboration to take a case that was more than a decade old to trial, and Huskey did go to jail. Some courthouse insiders in Modesto still think the former jailer got a sweetheart deal, particularly because Huskey need not register as a sex offender.

"It sure smells," said defense attorney Martha Carlton-Magaña. "I have a guy who is doing six years in prison for doing a lot less -- sentenced by the same judge, prosecuted by the same district attorney."

Said defense attorney Mary Lynn Belsher: "I would like the district attorney's office to explain to the public why an ex-deputy gets a better sentence, and gets out from under the lifetime burden of sex registration, when others who are younger and did less will have that burden."

Deal was rare, attorneys say

Most lawyers readily agree that criminal cases rise or fall on their own merits, with the stiffest sentences handed down when the authorities have strong corroborating evidence, a particularly vulnerable victim or a defendant's admission of guilt.

For example, a Ceres man who videotaped himself performing sex acts with two children was sentenced to 45 years to life in prison. A Riverbank man got 10 years in prison for molesting several girls he met at church. A Modesto man got six years for molesting a teen who lived in his home.

Although a wide spectrum of outcomes is expected, defense attorneys said it is rare for prosecutors to offer a deal that does not require registration, which is mandatory for most sex crimes.

"They typically hand out some pretty meaty sentences," said attorney Frank Carson, who recently represented a Modesto man who got three years in prison for an incident that happened in July 1996. His client touched an 11-year-old girl's breast while using drugs with other adults in her home.

According to a review of official records, 11 men have been convicted of sex crimes involving minors in Stanislaus County Superior Court since January. Huskey is the sole defendant who has not been required to register as a sex offender.

Lawyers in Huskey's case said the devil is in the details.

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees, who routinely prosecutes sex offenders, is known for taking a hard line against defendants whether they are suspected of minor crimes such as indecent exposure, escalate to inappropriate touching or leave a trail of rape victims.

She said the outcome of Huskey's case fits the facts she could prove in court. "I had never met Mr. Huskey, had no dealings with him and didn't treat him any differently than anyone else," Rees said.

Charge was amended

Huskey was arrested in January 2008 on suspicion of continuous sexual abuse of a child, apprehended while he was working at the Public Safety Center.

A few days later, the district attorney's office charged Huskey with committing a lewd or lascivious act with a child who was 12 or 13, a crime that requires registration as a sex offender.

The charge was amended, and the registration requirement dropped, when authorities determined that the victim must have been older, perhaps 14 or 15.

In the end, Huskey pleaded no contest to unlawful sex with a minor, which does not require registration as a sex offender.

Defense attorney Paul Goyette said Huskey acknowledged a single sexual encounter with his former stepdaughter, when she was 18. He said his client took a plea deal after two suicide attempts because a trial would have humiliated his family.

He said the woman may have been molested by another relative, whom she also accused, but did not endure years of fondling by Huskey as she contends. The accuracy of her memories, and her history of drug use, would have been key issues had the case gone to trial.

"Chip Huskey is certainly an easy target to blame for her problems," Goyette said.

Rees said she filed charges related to a single sexual encounter she could corroborate with Huskey's taped admissions.

She said she could not proceed with other allegations, such as ongoing molestation or furnishing drugs to a minor, because the alleged incidents happened long ago and the victim was unsure of key details.

Nailing down a timeline for the sex act that formed the basis for a single felony charge would have been a crucial factor had the case gone to trial.

Disagreement over age

During a preliminary hearing, the woman told the court about a sexual encounter that may have happened in summer 1997, at the home Huskey shared with a former wife, Sherry Huskey, a supervisor in the Probation Department. She declined to comment for this story.

The woman, whose name is not being used because of the nature of the allegations, told the court that she spent the night at the house with her younger brother. They slept on the living room floor.

She said a movie was playing on the television, her brother was fast asleep and Huskey's wife was sleeping upstairs.

She said her former stepfather lay next to her, started touching her, stopped when she cried, asked if she wanted to go to the garage and smoke a joint, and returned to the living room with her after they got high on marijuana.

She said Huskey climbed on top of her, even though she was crying, and told her to be quiet so she wouldn't wake her brother. She said the encounter included intercourse and oral sex.

"He just continued and went all the way," she testified, according to court records.

The woman initially told authorities she was 12 at the time, but she also recalled a nursery in the home, saying Huskey and his new wife were expecting a baby.

Using benchmarks, like the birth of the Huskey's baby, and the birth of a baby the teenager had with a boyfriend, the authorities concluded that the woman must have been 15, not 12.

Huskey's lawyer insists that the woman was 18, not a minor.

Rather than let a jury sort it out, the lawyers cut a deal.

Mitigated sentence chosen

Judge John G. Whiteside could have sent Huskey to prison for up to four years, but he chose a mitigated sentence and told Huskey he must abstain from drugs and alcohol during three years of probation. Huskey apologized to his family.

In an interview after the sentencing, the woman said the case got started after she discussed her memories with an older sister who was dating a sheriff's deputy. Her sister's boyfriend said he had a duty to report such allegations if the victim did not do so.

The victim came forward and an investigation began.

She said she expected the case to revolve around her report of ongoing molestation ending with a rape, not his claim of a single sex act. She said she thinks Huskey got off easy, but might have faced a different outcome if 12 jurors had heard their taped conversation.

As she put it, "They made it look like I was willing to do that with him."

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at or 578-2338.