REXBURG — A former Brigham Young University-Idaho student faces up to a decade in prison for the rape and lewd conduct of a 14-year-old girl he met on Tinder.
Connor Hammond and his attorneys Kristopher Meek and Dan Dummar met before Seventh District Court Judge Steven Boyce on Monday. There, Hammond pled guilty to one charge of rape and two counts of lewd conduct with a child under 16 in exchange for the state dropping three other counts of lewd conduct.
Boyce sentenced Hammond to four years determinant and six years indeterminate for the rape charge. The Judge gave the same sentence for the two lewd conduct charges ordering those to run consecutively with the rape sentencing. Boyce gave Hammond credit for the six months and 15 days that he spent in the Madison County Jail.
Hammond’s parents spoke prior to the sentencing and reported they had a counselor lined up to help him, another 12-step program for him to attend and a job he could work at while serving probation at home in Oregon.
Connor Hammond’s Rexburg bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bishop also spoke highly of Hammond. Numerous letters in support of Hammond from friends and Latter-day Saints missionary friends in Australia were presented to Boyce.
Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood reported that the victim initially told Hammond that she was 18, but later admitted she was 14. The victim also told him her dad was deployed with the Army. Such information gave Hammond the opportunity to manipulate the vulnerable girl, Wood said.
Wood reported that Hammond had fondled the breast of a 17-year-old Oregon girl earlier this year. He also stated that while Hammond was in Australia and under constant supervision, he had five sexual encounters where he fondled a girl’s breast. Hammond had also failed a polygraph test where he lied about other sexual incidents.
Hammond told investigators that he never forced the girl to have sex and told them she convinced him to visit her home, Wood said.
“That’s true. We understand a 14-year-old is confused and is acting out. Both agreed (sex) happened, but they have different stories. No one other than Mr. Hammond knows exactly what happened,” Wood said.
Wood reported that Hammond told investigators that he felt pressure to get married following his Church mission.
“It’s mind boggling any 21-year-old BYU-Idaho student would settle down with a 14-year-old girl and have a family,” he said.
Wood also noted news reports where Hammond texted BYU-Idaho students telling them he had an impression to type their names into Facebook and hoped to meet them.
“He was preying on religious vulnerability and naivety at the same time,” he said.
Wood told Boyce that Hammond had proven he couldn’t be trusted and any kind of probation or a one-year rider would show the community that child rape wasn’t taken seriously. Wood also asked Boyce to sentence Hammond to at least six years in prison and to pay a $5,000 civil fine.
Meek spoke and reminded the Judge that Hammond had no previous criminal record, and that he had graduated from a 12-step program while held at the Madison County Jail.
“The retrospective of anyone’s life is that they’re not weighed wholly on the bad decisions they make. Connor Hammond certainly made some poor decisions. Those poor decisions shouldn’t be the only things that this court looks at in examining his sentencing today,” he said.
Meek noted that Hammond was “looking for love in all the wrong places. That could not be any more true than it was at the time this incident took place. He tried to find love with other adult partners. He needs someone to rely on in order to feel loved and cared for.”
Meek reminded the Judge that Hammond’s victim lied about her age, but agreed that Hammond should have ended the relationship when she admitted her age.
“He wanted to be in a relationship. She asked if they could be boyfriend and girlfriend — perfectly playing into his psychological issue. He recognizes now that he needed her, but he should have been smart enough to end it,” he said.
Meek reported that Hammond admits that what he did was wrong and that he has an addiction to pornography that he’s sought treatment for.
“Those are not the statements of an individual who believes ‘I didn’t do anything wrong.’ ‘It wasn’t me.’ ‘It’s all her fault.’ Rather, it’s somebody taking ownership for what he’s done,” Meek said.
Meek reports that Hammond has written an apology letter to his victim, but the letter has not been sent because of a no contact order in place between the two.
Hammond also spoke and apologized to the victim, the victim’s family, his family, the community and BYU-Idaho.
“I know I’ll have a lot of hurtful words thrown at me. I know I’m strong enough to get through this with support from my family. I know I need a lot of help. I’m willing to get that help. I just want to have friends that I’ve known for a long time,” he said.
The Judge noted how complex the case was, and that the state and the defense had suggested vastly different punishments.
“This occurred in Mr. Hammond’s car that got stuck in the snow bank. A 14-year-old girl was in the car. The officer had some suspicions about what was going on,” he said.
Police reports stated that officers found the pair on February 26 at Beaver Dick Park where Hammond admitted to having sex with the girl.
The Judge expressed concerns that Hammond failed to pass the polygraph test and had previous sexual contact with other underage girls.
Boyce was adamant that Hammond’s victim shouldn’t be blamed for what happened.
“There was a comment made in sentencing that ‘What’s causing her to invite men into her home?’ Men don’t go into minor children’s home for these types of activities which have been stated inappropriately as a relationship,” he said. “It’s far beyond that. It’s an illegal relationship. It’s against the law. It’s rape. It’s lewd conduct with a child und 16.”
The Judge pointed out the damage done to the victim and her family.
“The victim is going to take some time to get through this,” he said.
Boyce extended the no contact order between Hammond and his victim. He also ordered that Hammond register as a sex offender.
Hammond will have the opportunity to appeal the sentence should he choose to do so.