Jennifer and Michael Magill wept as their attorneys argued for leniency and a chance at rehabilitation.
Their victims’ families shed tears, too, but mostly they expressed pain, anger and outrage that the couple had used their positions at the Christian Children’s Ranch in Eagle to manipulate vulnerable girls into having sex with them.
One of the young victims addressed the judge at Friday afternoon’s sentencing hearing, clear-voiced and resolute.
“Toward the beginning they were helping me through some previous sexual abuse, and I had a high level of trust for them,” the teen said, avoiding looking at the defendants. “So it really messed me up to see how someone could be so ... cruel and take that away.
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“I hate them. I don’t want anyone touching me, ever. I feel let down by everyone at this point. They were supposed to take care of me.”
At the end of the two-hour hearing, 4th District Judge Jason Scott sentenced Michael Magill to at least 10 years in prison and up to 30 for sexual battery of a 17-year-old girl and sexual abuse of a girl younger than 16. He imposed a similar sentence for Jennifer Magill, but she must wait 12 years before she is eligible for parole. Both also were sentenced to five to 10 years (to run concurrently) for secretly videotaping a nude 13-year-old in her bedroom.
Jennifer Magill, Scott said, is “marginally more culpable,” based on attorney arguments and the couple’s statements as part of court-ordered psychosexual evaluations.
Her husband reportedly told the evaluator that he was trying to keep his wife happy. She reportedly said the girls enjoyed the sex games and didn’t suffer harm.
“Although any decent human would know better, she in particular, by training and education, (should know) that this is not a victimless pursuit for her enjoyment and her husband’s enjoyment,” Scott said, referring to Jennifer Magill’s past work as a counselor. She told the judge she was a year away from completing her master’s degree.
“She blames this whole thing on (the girls’) sexual curiosity, and that’s a lie,” Ada County Deputy Prosecutor John Dinger said.
In addition to the three victims named in the charges, Dinger said Jennifer Magill wrote in her journal about the couple’s sex acts with another girl at the ranch. That girl is also covered by a no-contact order: The couple may not reach out to their victims before their full 30-year sentences are completed.
Dinger also requested a no-contact order to keep the couple away from any children, but the judge amended that order to allow contact with their two biological children, who attorneys said are now living with relatives.
VICTIMS WEIGH IN
In impact statements, family members said the Magills used their victims’ faith as a weapon.
“They told her, ‘It’s OK to keep secrets. Even Jesus kept secrets,’ ” said a father whose developmentally disabled daughter was used for various sex acts by both Magills. “How dare you?”
Turning toward the couple, he said he couldn’t understand “how you, as parents yourselves, could hurt such an innocent, loving child who happens to be mentally impaired.”
His wife said their daughter “is now scared, angry, teary and afraid to trust. “
The victim in the most recent charges submitted a written statement that Dinger read in court. The girl was secretly videotaped, leading prosecutors to file charges of sexually exploiting a minor.
“I am a 14-year-old girl who has had her feelings of privacy and safety stolen from her,” wrote the teen, who was 13 when she was videotaped. “They robbed me of my self-confidence and the comfort I once had within myself.”
That girl’s mother spoke in court Friday, saying the Magills “got the word ‘pray’ wrong” by changing it to “prey.”
“Now she hates God; she hates herself,” she said, weeping. “And for what? Predators.”
ARRIVING AT A SENTENCE
The Magills worked at the Christian Children’s Ranch for 11 months as houseparents in one of four houses that each shelter up to 10 children. They were arrested in August.
Neither Magill had any criminal history, the judge said, and other mitigating factors were that both expressed remorse and had psychosexual evaluations that showed they would be amenable to treatment.
Defense attorney Danica Comstock said Jennifer Magill was sexually abused by her stepfather as a young child in ways “remarkably similar to what these victims suffered here.” She said her client “needs treatment as soon as possible to reduce any risk of reoffense.”
In her sentencing recommendation, Comstock asked for a “rider” in which Jennifer Magill would be treated and evaluated for about six months and then returned to court for a determination of whether she should be released on probation or returned to prison.
Michael Magill’s lawyer, Paul Taber, asked for no more than five years as the “fixed” part of the sentence, saying his client “really did want to help kids.”
Dinger asked Scott to require both Magills to spend at least 20 years in prison before they become eligible for parole.
The judge said prosecutors requested a stiffer sentence than has been given to defendants whose sexual crimes against children have been “more egregious.” But he also noted that “none involved the appalling level of breach of trust” that the Magills demonstrated.
In brief statements to the court, both Magills wept and stressed their remorse.
“I am a good person who made terrible mistakes and hurt so many people,” Jennifer Magill said. “I need help. I want help.”
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447