A Dearborn man who sexually abused a girl over the period of a decade, beginning when she was five or six years old, has been sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Darren L. Paden, 52, received the sentence on Friday after pleading guilty to two counts of first degree statutory sodomy in August.
But Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd said something was different—and deeply troubling—about the case: the number of community members who continued to disbelieve the young girl, even though the defendant admitted his guilt within the first couple of hours of his police interview and then pleaded guilty.
“There are certainly a few good people in this community who have offered support to this young victim,” Zahnd said. “It is shocking, however, that many continue to support a defendant whose guilt was never in doubt. If it takes a village to raise a child, what is a child to do when the village turns its back and supports a confessed child molester?”
At the sentencing hearing, the girl read a lengthy statement to the court that described not only the abuse she suffered at the hands of Paden, but also how she felt rejected by her own community after disclosing the sexual abuse she suffered.
Among her comments:
“I couldn't face the world, and I couldn't face this town that made me feel like I was unwanted by everyone. . . . I was genuinely terrified to go into our new café in town because I was scared someone was going to yell at me or refuse to serve me. I was even scared they would tamper with my food. I feel so unwelcomed in a town that I have grown up in. I feel like an outsider that just strolled in and everybody is giving their own analysis on; and making up gossip that people believe instead of just coming up and talking to me. . . . Try dealing with that on top of being called a liar every day. . . .
To say you support someone who has done this sort of thing makes me wonder how some would react if a son/daughter told you they were a victim of these behaviors. Would you sign a petition then? Would you write letters of support still? I have little faith some would cease support of these acts, even if it was to their own flesh and blood.”
The girl also said she transferred out of her public school because she “felt as if a teacher would snap on me any second in front of my peers.” Ultimately, a school board member from the victim's school testified in support of the Defendant. Two retired teachers and three other school employees also wrote letters in support of Paden.
Paden told the psychologist hired by his criminal defense attorney that he sexually abused the girl two or three times a month over a period from 2001 to 2012. Paden told the girl it was “their little secret” and that she should not tell her mother or anyone else.
Paden told his psychologist that he fantasized about incest and had sexual interest in children “both in reality and in dreams and fantasies.” The psychologist diagnosed Paden as a pedophile.
When Paden was interviewed by detectives with the Platte County Sheriff's Department in December 2012, he admitted his guilt within two hours of the beginning of questioning. Paden also wrote letters apologizing to the victim and his family for what he had done. Despite the confession and apology letters, Paden refused to plead guilty to his crimes for more than two years.
Instead, Paden admitted to a Missouri Probation and Parole Officer that he told people the girl was lying about the allegations. At his guilty plea, however, Paden confirmed the girl “was, in fact, truthful.”
Nevertheless, many members of the Dearborn community wrote letters on Paden's behalf following his guilty plea. Prosecutors met with most of them to make sure they understood that Paden had fully confessed to his crimes, yet many of those community leaders continued to stand behind Paden.
Those writing letters or testifying on behalf of Paden included:
Michele Paden-Livengood, Member, North Platte School Board
Donna Nash, former Platte County Collector
Karlton Nash, Nash Gas
Jerry Hagg, former president, Platte Valley Bank
Sheila S. Goodlet, former teacher, North Platte School District
Paige Newby, former teacher, North Platte School District
Diana Blankenship, secretary to the superintendent, North Platte School District and elder, New Market Christian Church
Sherri Ambler, employee, North Platte School District
Missy Stephenson, employee, North Platte School District
Gene Blankenship, trustee, New Market Christian Church
Beckie Moore, Nurse Practitioner, St. Luke's Health System
Darla Hall Emmendorfer, Construction Engineer
Zahnd said, “It is said that we can be judged by how we treat the least of those among us. It breaks my heart to see pillars of this community—a former county official, a bank president, church leaders, a school board member, current and former school employees—appear to choose the side of a child molester over the child he repeatedly abused.”
Judge James Van Amburg sentenced Paden to 25 years each on two counts of first degree statutory sodomy involving a victim under age 12. By law, those sentences must be run consecutively, resulting in a 50-year prison sentence.
The case was investigated by the Platte County Sheriff's Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys Myles Perry and Chris Seufert.