A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge said yesterday "it takes two to tango" when he noted that an 11-year-old girl who was sexually molested by a 23-year-old man was "not free of fault" because she had invited the man into her bedroom. The judge immediately came under criticism for his remarks.
Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said the 18-month jail term that Circuit Court Judge Durke G. Thompson gave the man was "more appropriate for a shoplifter" and said Thompson's comments about the girl being partly to blame for the sex acts were inappropriate.
"This was an 11-year-old girl," Gansler said in a news release. "This was not a tango. This was sex between an adult and a vulnerable little girl."
Thompson, a Circuit Court judge for six years, said last night that judicial ethics rules prohibit him from publicly discussing a case while it is under consideration. The defendant, Vladimir Chacon-Bonilla of Alexandria, has 90 days to ask Thompson to reconsider his sentence for his guilty plea to a second-degree sex offense.
Montgomery prosecutors said the victim's mother found Chacon-Bonilla in her daughter's closet in July with his pants around his ankles and the room smelling of cigarettes and alcohol. The girl told police that she met him two months before through an Internet chat room and that she'd had sex with him once before and that night in her bedroom.
Chacon-Bonilla told police he thought the girl was 17. His attorney, Rebecca Nitkin, told the judge that the girl had made sexually suggestive comments to her client and other men over the Internet. Chacon-Bonilla, she said, was a "situational offender" who has an alcohol problem, was lonely and estranged from his wife at the time and is now ashamed of his conduct.
The judge's "tango" remarks came when he addressed comments that the girl's father had made about their family being destroyed by what had happened.
"This was very intrusive and disruptive and harmful, but it has not wrecked anyone's life," Thompson said.
The girl herself, the judge said, was not "free of fault" because she gave Chacon-Bonilla "some invitation" into her home.
"I think the old adage that it takes two to tango is true here," the judge said.
Thompson said that a psychologist found that Chacon-Bonilla is not a pedophile and said he believed that the man was remorseful and neither "predatory" nor likely to commit such an act again. The judge said he had to weigh that with the need for punishment because the victim's young age was "very striking," and it was "very disturbing" that Chacon-Bonilla had sexually molested her in her home late at night.
Maryland's nonbinding sentencing guidelines in the case called for four to nine years in state prison. The judge sentenced Chacon-Bonilla to five years in state prison but suspended all but the 18 months in the county jail followed by three years of probation with treatment for alcohol abuse.