MERRILL - With the chance of spending up to 40 years behind bars hanging over him, Steven Bailey took some ownership for the felonies he faced Tuesday morning.
"I was the one who was solely responsible," Bailey said during his sentencing hearing in Lincoln County Court.
Lincoln County Judge Robert Russell sentenced Bailey to one year in jail and 15 years of probation at the end of the two-hour hearing.
Prosecutors charged Bailey in August 2015 after a 15-year-old babysitter accused him of having sex with her at his Tomahawk home. The criminal complaint says a sexual assault nurse who treated the victim after the assault found Bailey injured her private areas.
Tuesday, district attorney Galen Bayne-Allison read a statement from the victim, who was not in court.
"During the act I wanted to cry, but I wouldn't let him see that," the victim wrote. "When I laughed it was a replacement for the tears that almost spilled."
Bayne-Allison said he felt Bailey has "a disturbed mind", having taken advantage of a teen with a troubled family life. The teen went on to write that Bailey said he could "fix her" following issues with her mother and a past boyfriend.
But the district attorney thought prison wouldn't help rehabilitate Bailey. Instead, Bayne-Allison argued a jail term and lengthy probation period would be more effective. Bayne-Allison also said the victim didn't want Bailey to go to prison, as sex offender laws would offer "more severe punishment than a prison sentence."
Bailey's wife Stacy agreed, adding she and their four children would end up homeless. She spoke for a few minutes during the sentencing hearing, explaining one of her four 11-year-old children has autism and Steven is the primary caretaker for the boy. Stacy Bailey also shared she suffers from early onset Parkinson's disease, adding Bailey provides their children with "a moral compass."
"While far from perfect -- none of us are -- Steve's a good man," Stacy Bailey said. "He's essential to our family and we don't work without him."
The state agreed in June to drop two other sex assault charges in the case in exchange for a guilty plea to one, with only jail and probation recommended. Bailey's attorney said his client has essentially been on probation since his arrest in 2015.
"It certainly gives the court an idea that he can be supervised, that he's willing to follow rules," defense attorney Corey Chirafisi said.
Chirafisi also noted had the assault happened a few months later, the victim would have been 16 and charges would instead be misdemeanors.
Judge Russell said he was struck by the emotional impact Bailey had on his victim. He also questioned why Bailey would act criminally when his family relied on him for so much support.
"The easy decision in this case, Mr. Bailey, would be to send you to prison," Russell said. "But prison isn't always the easy answer."
Russell ultimately decided probation and jail time would protect the public better than "overcrowded and understaffed" prisons.
"No one wants to see something like this happen again," Russell said. "And the only way we can ensure that it doesn't happen again is by making sure, Mr. Bailey, that you get the treatment that you need."
That treatment will include finishing a four-year sex offender program, spend a year in jail, and register as a sex offender for life.
"Prior to this aberration in my life, I've led a good life and given an opportunity to do so in the future I'll continue to do so," Bailey said.
Bailey could use Huber release to take care of his children, but that decision will be up to the jail administrator. The court also agreed to allow Bailey serve his jail sentence in Oneida County, as he now lives near Rhinelander.
Russell reminded Bailey any slip up during his 15 years on probation will likely lead to a lengthy prison sentence.
"You know what, Mr. Bailey? It's going to be up to you," Russell said. "The burden is going to be unto you and you can show the court how serious you're going to take this."
Bailey must participate in GPS monitoring and cannot have any contact with the victim or her family. Bailey must report to jail by July 31 at 9 a.m.