Editor’s note: This story first appeared online at www.tetonvalleynews.net.
Chet K. Neilson, who pled guilty to felony rape in September 2019, was sentenced by District Court Judge Steven Boyce to 15 years in prison and 10 years indeterminate in Teton County Court on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
The sentencing was higher than the state’s recommendation of a 10 year fixed prison term. Neilson will be required to register as a sex offender.
Neilson, a 32-year-old St. Anthony man, was charged with the Aug. 4, 2017, rape and battery of a 26-year-old woman in the Victor City Park. A criminal complaint filed by Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Billie Siddoway said the victim resisted the rape, but she was overcome by force or violence. The complaint said that Neilson inflicted great bodily injury to the victim.
The courtroom that afternoon was filled with more than 50 people, most of whom were there to support the victim. Besides legal council, the only two people who spoke before the sentencing were the victim and Neilson.
“I do not speak on behalf of myself,” said the victim while she read her victim impact statement. “But for the community, my friends, my family, the lawyers, the doctors, business owners and for people around the world.”In a clear voice, the victim spent almost 25 minutes giving voice to family and friends who had written to her and to the court in support of her, the Teton Valley community and the legal system in the hopes that the greatest sentence possible would be levied that afternoon. “I know I don’t stand alone. They don’t just speak for me, but for everyone else.”
She challenged the judge to set an example of justice.At the end of her statement she talked about her personal struggle since the time of the crime. “I’m worried I’ll never feel safe again. I fought desperately for my life. I felt like I failed myself. I thought I let myself down. Being told, ‘I’ll kill you if you don’t stop screaming.’ I was not ready to die. I can still taste the salt from his hands as he covered my mouth. I was not ready to give up my life. I’m still not ready to give up my life.”
Teton County deputy prosecutor Richard Friess recommended a 10 year fixed prison sentence and a 15 indeterminate. Defense for Neilson, Sean Moulton with Moulton Law in Driggs agreed that punishment was warranted in this case, but also asked the court to consider rehabilitation.
“You committed a shocking crime,” said Judge Boyce. “This is one of worst things I’ve seen and that includes my seven years as a prosecutor. You raped a random stranger. This rape was so violent that she was fighting for her life. After it happened if it was not for DNA technology, I think you would have gotten away with it. Over two years, no one knew. Now we know. It was you.”
After the sentencing, Emily Bilcher, executive director for the Family Safety, said, “ “We are grateful that Mr. Neilson is being held accountable for the horrific crime he committed. The reality is, the survivor’s experience of harm can never be erased no matter the amount of time.”
She added, “The community needs to focus on creating spaces for healing and engaging in conversations to understand and interrupt the root causes of sexual violence. With great regret, none of us can undue what happened on Aug 4, 2017, but we can work together to create a culture that is free of violence.”