ELKO — A young woman — who five years earlier was a teenage victim of incest — testified Thursday in Elko District Court to the humiliation, anger and isolation she has suffered.
Rarely looking up and never at defendant Aaron Hughes, the victim tearfully read a letter she wrote for the court addressing how the crime affected her life.
“I have lost so much faith in what is good and what is true,” she said.
Moments later, District Judge Nancy Porter sentenced Hughes, 41, to life in prison for incest. He will be eligible for parole review after two years and he was credited 86 days for time served.
The high profile case caused the victim humiliation from which she’s had trouble recovering, she said.
“I have convinced myself that I have moved on so many times only to have my feet ripped out from beneath me again and again,” she said. “This case has been continued for way too long. … I blame (Hughes) for his mistakes because I’m being dragged through the mud right behind him.”
Porter, bound by statute to sentence Hughes to life in prison for incest with parole eligibility after two years, had the option of suspending the sentence and giving the defendant probation.
Porter denied granting Hughes probation, however.
“I think you understand why,” she said to the defendant.
Porter also denied a request by the defense to allow Hughes a one-day stay before being taken into custody. Hughes was cuffed and escorted out of the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies past the near-full courtroom gallery that included many law enforcement officers as well as Hughes’ and the victim’s family and friends.
Prior to sentencing, District Attorney Mark Torvinen advised against the Nevada Division of Parole and Probation’s recommendation to grant Hughes parole with a 30-day sentence in the Elko County Jail.
Torvinen argued that the facts of the case and the impact the crime had on the victim were serious enough to warrant incarceration and outweighed any mitigating circumstances.
“There needs to be a reckoning,” Torvinen said “… It’s the State’s position that probation would not suffice.”
Defense attorney Tammy Riggs called Dr. William O’Donohue, a licensed psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno to the stand as an expert witness. O’Donohue evaluated Hughes prior to the hearing and determined the defendant to be an extremely low risk to reoffend.
O’Donohue noted in his report that he didn’t find indicators in Hughes that typically precede relapse into deviant sexual behavior. He also said Hughes’ social personality, excellent impulse control, intelligence and otherwise healthy relationships would serve him well in recovery.
“The final strength is he is not in denial. One of the most difficult things we have in repeated sex offenders is they say it didn’t happen. He’s admitting that this happened,” O’Donohue said.
Torvinen asked the psychologist if Hughes might have carefully answered questions or lied to receive a more favorable evaluation.
O’Donohue answered that the test included a built-in lie scale. Hughes, he said, appeared to have been truthful.
Riggs argued that the district attorney’s sentence recommendation was based on revenge.
“How much of a pound of flesh does the community need from Mr. Hughes? We’re talking about an incident that occurred five years ago. He has been a responsible, peaceful member of this community since that time. Not even an iota of a sense that he would reoffend,” Riggs said.
Probation wouldn’t be a free pass, she added. The division recommended 21 conditions, including prior approval for employment, approval before any contact with minors or providing volunteer service. Under the division’s parole stipulations Hughes would also not be allowed any Internet access.
“This man’s life is going to be in a box for the remainder of his life. A period of incarceration, Your Honor, isn’t going to give back to the community anything of value,” she said. “… The punishment that he will further suffer is he will lose his life.”
Hughes took a moment to address the court. He said he took full responsibility.
“I wish I could repair it,” he said.
Hughes also offered an apology to the local law enforcement community, which has felt betrayed and tarnished by the former captain’s behavior.
In a statement, Police Chief Don Zumwalt said Hughes’ crime and the ensuing attention it drew has caused a constant hardship in the law enforcement agency.
“It is my earnest hope that whatever his outcome is in the future, that this chapter of our department’s existence be closed and that the Elko Police Department heals from the wounds inflicted by one of its own,” Zumwalt stated.
Hughes was arrested in 2008. During an investigation related to stolen property allegations, sheriff’s deputies found a video depicting Hughes and a 17-year-old relative engaging in sexual acts.
He was originally charged with incest and using a minor in the production of pornography. In January, Hughes agreed to a plea deal in which the district attorney dropped the pornography charge in exchange for a guilty plea to incest.