A Portage man was sentenced Thursday for charges of sexual assault. The man was 18-years-old at the time; the victim is a 30-year-old woman with significant cognitive impairment.
Michael Powell was brought into the Columbia County Circuit Court, Branch 2 courtroom dressed in the orange uniform from the Columbia County Jail as he was led between rooms to Judge Joseph G. Sciacia, brought in from his usual jurisdiction of Dodge County.
In initial exchanges between Sciascia, defense attorney Amanda Riek and Assistant District Attorney Brenda Yaskal, there was no victim impact statement and no additional testimony from either side.
In her presentation to the court, Yaskal gave a sketch of Powell as a calculating offender whose decisions were based on his own cost-benefit analysis. She referred to a point in the state’s psychological examination of Powell in which he was asked about a previous case when Powell stole checks from his mother and was caught forging them.
Yaskal quoted his response to the question of whether he would do that kind of thing again: “It all depended on how serious the consequences are.”
She went on to explain that when describing the assault to the State’s analyst, he said, “Videotaping it made him feel bad because he felt like they were going to get caught.”
Countering Yaskal’s push for a prison terms, Riek asked for probation totaling eight years.
“There is no mention that we know almost nothing about Mr. Powell before age 4,” said Riek, referring to the time before Powell was placed in the foster home, where he would eventually be adopted.
“I tried very strenuously to find records,” said Riek, “I heard he is from Kenosha, I’ve heard he is from Illinois.” She went on to introduce the possibility of undiagnosed fetal alcohol syndrome.
“We don’t know what he went through to age 4,” said Riek.
As Riek came toward the end of her argument, murmurs rose and fell in the back row. Then a note was passed to Yaskal.
Sciascia then recognized Powell’s adopted father — the victim’s father — who took a seat next to Yaskal.
“I just want to impress on the court, that she is fearful, she worries that he will be back in the home,” he said. “He has not had any accountability or any remorse for anything he has done.”
When he finished, the mother stood up: “I might as well,” she said.
“I would like to know the doctor’s qualifications,” she said of the Department of Corrections analyst. “We have been to Madison for a lot of 10-hour days,” she said, explaining long term medical evaluations that they went through with their adopted son.
Running entirely counter to descriptions of the defense, she told the court that Powell has known where he is from. He saw his biological mother’s signature on the back of a paystub that certified his entrance into the child welfare system. He has seen his birth certificate.
“He knows all this stuff. Michael likes to pretend that there are things he doesn’t understand,” she said. “He has not had a hard life at our house.”
In his concluding statement, Sciascia told the court, “I don’t have nearly the facts I would like to have.” He reviewed numerous quotations from the State’s analysis of the defendant giving clear explanation why he should be given treatment in a community setting and equally official citations testifying to the exact opposite. “There is nothing that I can do to restore what the victim is entitled to.”
Finally, he sided with at least one conclusion of the State’s analysis that was highlighted by Riek: that an individual like Powell, if placed in a prison environment would almost certainly have unintended negative consequences on any chance of the defendant being able to successfully navigate life in society.
Powell was sentenced to a total of eight years of probation with a strong warning that, “If the agent says jump, you say, ‘How high,’ and ‘What direction?’”
This came with a long list of conditions such as submitting a DNA sample, following through with sex offender treatment, no contact with the victim and no victim with the parents, but then there was a sticking point. There was a brief discussion of amending the last to no contact to the home, or without approval. It was decided no contact to the parents without pre-approval.
“It won’t be any time soon,” the father said, “but he’s still my son.”