The mother of the two young victims says the Spring Hill man needs help, not prison. The boys say they forgive him.
A Spring Hill man convicted of molesting two boys hung his head in court Tuesday and asked the judge and his victims for mercy.
He got it.
"There isn't an excuse in the world for what he did. But I believe he needs help, and he's getting the help that he needs," said the boys' mother, whose name the St. Petersburg Times is withholding to protect their identities. "I don't believe prison is the right place for (him)."
At the request of the mother and the brothers, who say they forgive William M. Crowell Jr. for what he did, a judge sentenced the 34-year-old to 15 years of sexual offender probation and two years of community control. The sentence is a special deviation from the state guidelines that recommend Crowell, of 5327 Baldock Ave., spend the next 17 to 60 years in prison.
"You need to understand that this, according to law, is a huge break for you. Huge," Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink said to Crowell. "If something ever happens again, your life as you know it will be over because you will be in prison for many, many years."
In court Tuesday, Crowell admitted fondling the two brothers, who were 8 and 10 years old at the time, on four occasions in July and August 1999. He was found guilty of four counts of lewd and lascivious assault.
"I can't take it back, but I can make things right if you give me a second chance," Crowell told the court. "I expect to pay for what I've done."
His lawyer, Jimmy Brown of Brooksville, argued that Crowell deserved special sentencing because of mitigating factors he says prove his client is no longer a danger to society.
Among those factors are: Crowell came forward to Hernando County sheriff's deputies about the incident and cooperated with their investigation; he sought treatment for his "demons" prior to his arrest; both the victims and their mother said they did not want Crowell to go to prison, and his counselors say he has made significant progress and has started to deal with abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a minister, Brown said.
According to a relatively new state law, judges can deviate from state guidelines if certain conditions are met. The change applies to crimes committed after Oct. 3, 1999, Brown said.
Prosecutor Nicole Klapka, while acknowledging this change in law, argued that Crowell does not deserve to be the exception to the rule. She said the fact that Crowell originally told his victims not to tell anyone about what happened showed that he intended to try to hide the crime.
She added that the victims' mother may have been pressured into asking that Crowell receive no prison time because he has offerred to set up a college trust fund for her sons, to which he will pay $100 each month until they are 18. If Crowell was in prison and not working, that would be impossible, she said.
"That is a big pressure for a mother who has no money," the prosecutor said. "That's a strong incentive to say, "Yeah, give him a break.' "
In the end, Tombrink sided with the defense but left Crowell with a stern warning that he would land back in prison if he violates any aspect of his probation.
Crowell, who thanked God for the sentence, vowed to do his best.
"I won't let (the judge) down," he said, standing outside the courthouse with his wife and lawyer.