The following is a story written and reported by Eric Grossarth of East Idaho News:
REXBURG — A man who pleaded guilty to having sex with a 14-year-old girl “was looking for love in all the wrong places,” his defense attorney said in a sentencing hearing Monday.
Connor Hammond, 22, will spend at least four years in prison for the rape, with a maximum of 10 years possible. He must also pay a $1,000 fine, $5,000 to the victim and restitution. Hammond originally pleaded guilty to felony rape where the victim is under 16 and two felony counts of lewd conduct with a minor in July.
The sentence came after more than an hour of contradicting accounts of Hammond’s character. According to court documents, the former Brigham Young University-Idaho student engaged in a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl in January and February.
“We don’t know the important things about Mr. Hammond that we need to know,” said Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Wood. “We don’t know them because he won’t tell us. At least not in a way that a polygraph will tell us he is.”
Wood said Hammond took a polygraph as part of a pre-sentencing investigation and psychosexual evaluation. During the interview, the examiner asked Hammond questions related to his sexual history. Results from the test showed deception, prompting investigators to push deeper and revealing a troublesome past, they said.
“The victim, in this case, is not the first child he engaged in sexual activity with,” Wood said. “Yes, this might be his first conviction, (but) it’s not the first time he’s engaged with a minor child in sexual activity.”
Wood said Hammond told investigators that while he was serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia, he fondled the exposed breast of a girl at least twice over a five- to six-month period. Wood did not give details about the encounters, but if church authorities knew of the behavior, its policy dictates Hammond would have been sent home from his mission and reported to law enforcement.
In further interviews, Hammond said within the past year, he fondled the breast of a 17-year-old girl while in Oregon.
Wood said Hammond does not accept full responsibility for the rape and lewd conduct. In court, Wood revealed Hammond met the 14-year-old victim on Tinder, an adult dating app. Hammond also suggested that he wanted to have a longterm relationship with her and settle down together.
“That is mind-boggling that any 21-year-old at BYU-Idaho would think they’re going to settle down with a 14-year-old and have a family,” Wood said. “This is manipulative. He’s trying to make us think he has these good intentions.”
Defense attorneys Kristopher Meek and Dan Dummar presented quotes from a list of Hammond’s supporters, including church leaders, family, friends and former mission companions.
“The first moment we were able to speak with Connor in the days after his arrest, he struggled to speak with us because he was so distraught and upset,” Chris Hammond, Connor Hammond’s father, said in court. “I will never forget one of the first things he said to me was, ‘Now I’ll never have my own family.’ He thought that his life was over.”
He described his son as a naive dreamer lacking in maturity but said Hammond would be successful on probation. Chris Hammond said they’ve secured employment opportunities for Hammond and treatment through a 12-step program while asking that his son return to live with them in Oregon.
“As Connor’s parents, we’ve spent the last six and a half months analyzing the circumstances and the choices that have lead to this court,” said Elise Hammond, Connor Hammond’s mother. “Connor has been humble and broken from the moment he’s been booked in jail, and he’s frequently acknowledged his choices and how they’ve broken hearts.”
She said they’ve had to exercise strength in not posting the $200,000 bail.
“We feel assured that we have prepared what is needed to aid in Connor’s success,” Elise Hammond said.
Meek said Hammond made poor choices, but it shouldn’t be the only thing the court looks at when deciding a sentence.
“It’s been said Mr. Hammond was looking for love in all the wrong places,” Meek said. “That could not be any more true today than it was at the time this incident took place.”
Meek said Hammond attempted to find love with other adults and that his client’s wish for a relationship led him to seek out the victim.
“At first (the victim) posed herself as an adult on Tinder,” Meek said. “She’s a 14-year-old individual who clearly lied in her statement when she signed up for this app.”
Hammond did learn the victim’s true age before engaging in a relationship with the girl, Meek said.
“Connor at the time was needy. He wanted to be in a relationship and to find love,” Meek said. “She asked if they could be boyfriend and girlfriend, perfectly playing into his psychological issue … He found someone he could depend on for part of that emotional connection he needed. … He (recognizes) now that he needed her but should have been smart enough to end it.”
Hammond’s attorneys recommended that he serve probation and cited the psychosexual evaluation’s recommendation of probation. Wood argued that prison would be the best option.
“I don’t think anyone can say the defendant really accepts responsibility for what happened,” Wood said. “He saw a vulnerable child, and he pounced.”
Hammond briefly spoke during the sentencing and said he knows he has a lot of weaknesses but hopes to turn those into strengths.
“I just want everyone to know that I’m really, really sorry,” Hammond said. “Especially BYU-Idaho, my family, the victim and her family.”
District Judge Steven Boyce agreed with Wood that Hammond belongs behind bars and ordered him to go to prison.
“There are a lot of aggravating factors in this case,” Boyce said. “I do have some concerns about the posture of the description of the events where I do think there’s been a fair amount of blame attempted to be put upon the victim.”
Once Hammond is released from prison, he is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.