Mother of man sentenced to 24 years for assaulting 4-year-old tells judge why she turned son in to police
When James Esselman’s mother turned him in to police for sexually assaulting the 4-year-old girl he was entrusted to care for, she knew her son would have to answer for his crimes one day.
That day came Tuesday in an Ozaukee County courtroom where Esselman’s mother told Circuit Judge Paul Malloy that she reported the terrible things her son did to the girl to save not only the child but her troubled son as well.
“He needed to be stopped. He needed to be helped,” Nadine Katchever said of her son during the sentencing hearing. “The day I saved a little girl is also the day I saved my son Jim.”
Katchever, who said her son needs treatment to deal with his mental illness instead of being “discarded on some human scrap heap,” asked Malloy to show compassion.
But instead of the 14 years recommended by defense attorney Kathleen Stilling, Malloy sentenced Esselman, 36, of Port Washington, to 24 years in prison for what Assistant District Attorney Patti Wabitsch described as the “brutal rape of a child.”
Malloy also sentenced Esselman to 26 years of extended supervision following his incarceration.
“The damage to children who have been sexually assaulted is just huge. In that way, the impact of these crimes is just enormous,” Malloy said. “She’s old enough to remember what her supposed protector and friend of her mother did to her.”
Malloy interrupted his comments to praise Katchever for her decision to report her son’s crimes.
“I have the highest regards for what you did,” Malloy told her. “It would have gone from horrible to worse if you hadn’t intervened.”
In October, Esselman pleaded no contest to two felony counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child, charges that stemmed from what his mother told police in January.
According to the criminal complaint, Katchever told authorities that on Jan. 21, her son asked her to watch the girl while he ran errands. She said her son befriended the girl’s mother via an internet site about five years ago and occasionally cared for her at his home on Jackson Street.
Katchever said the girl told her she and Esselman, who she referred to as Jimmy, play “boy butt and girl butt.” When Katchever asked if she liked the game, the girl responded, “No, I cry. I don’t like that,” the complaint states.
When confronted by police, Esselman admitted to sodomizing the girl twice at his home in November 2011, according to the complaint.
Wabitsch said Esselman instructed the girl not to tell anyone what happened at his apartment and used bribery to manipulate her.
“He offered to make cupcakes with her to satisfy his own sexual desires,” Wabitsch said.
The damage Esselman inflicted on the child was profound and is undoubtedly long-lasting, she said.
“The victim is afraid to sleep alone and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at the young age of 4,” said Wabitsch, who argued for a 24-year prison sentence followed by 30 years of extended supervision.
“The community demands of us to protect children. There can be no breaking of that trust without great consequences.”
Esselman said he understood that.
“I know what a horrific crime I committed,” he said. “I do need to be punished for those crimes.”
Through treatment, Esselman said, he hopes to discover “why I committed such a horrible crime against such an innocent person.”
He also spoke about his mother’s decision to turn him in.
“I was never upset with her,” Esselman said. “I’m actually proud of my mom.”
Stilling, Esselman’s lawyer, described him as a person burdened by “so much psychological baggage” stemming from struggles with learning, the divorce of his parents and a distant father.
Despite his demons, however, Esselman was a trusted baby sitter as an adolescent and led a respectable life as an adult until he molested the girl, Stilling said.
“It’s clear this was an anomalous act in a life where there has been no assaultive behavior,” she said.
Stilling took issue with the state probation officer who wrote the presentence report, accusing her of being so offended by Esselman’s crimes that she recommended an unreasonable punishment and ignored input from experts who opined on treatment options that could rehabilitate Esselman.
For instance, Stilling said, the presentence investigator made an erroneous connection between Esselman’s fascination with diapers, which began when he was about 11 and was rooted in his extreme sense of worthlessness, and sexual deviancy.
“It’s very apparent that this started as a comfort measure,” Stilling said. “Nothing gave him the comfort of feeling like a toddler again.”
Malloy, who described Esselman’s crimes as ones that will not be forgotten even by judges who deal with a litany of serious offenses, said there are positive aspects of his life that should be taken into account. Despite his challenges, Esselman graduated from high school, is close to his mother and sister and has a few friends, the judge noted.
But in the final analysis, Malloy said, “the gravity of these offenses is huge.”
The judge ordered Esselman to register as a sexual offender, and as conditions of his extended supervision he ordered him not to have contact with anyone younger than 18 without permission from his probation officer, maintain absolute sobriety and not to access or own computers or any other devices capable of accessing the Internet. He also ordered him not to possess diapers.
“This has got to be stopped,” Malloy said.