20-year prison sentence for sex offender
A Laurel man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison and must complete Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the state’s sex offender treatment program before he can be considered for parole after admitting to three sexual assaults on juvenile girls.
On Monday, Jason Russel Burg, 44, received a total sentence of 40 years in prison with 20 years suspended. Once he is released, Burg must register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life as a Level 1 offender — a designation that District Judge Blair Jones said he had great concerns about as that is considered to be for low risk offenders.
Although Burg was convicted of just one sexual assault, in interviews with counselors and authorities leading up to Monday’s sentencing, he confessed to sexually assaulting two other young girls.
The additional victims, and the damaging impact the assaults have had on the girls’ lives, was at the forefront of Jones’s consideration.
“Sentence has already been pronounced on the victims,” said Jones, adding that all three will have a lifetime of having to deal with the pain of what was done to them.
Jones also expressed concerns about Burg’s controlling personality and the likelihood of him holding himself accountable for his own conduct.
“I don’t know how accountable Mr. Burg is going to be,” said Jones. “The risks (to the community) are so great.”
Called as a defense witness was Dr. Robert Bakko, who conducted a psychosexual evaluation on Burg and determined the Level 1 designation. While Bakko testified that he did not believe that Burg had to be in prison to be treated, he said it was vital that he is monitored.
“Without supervision, he would be a threat to the community,” said Bakko.
Burg apologized for the crimes and told Jones he wants to be part of his victims’ healing through his own healing.
“This is my beginning to heal…I’m a courageous person and my faith is strong.”
Burg also said his victims have the right to be mad.
Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde had asked for a 50-year sentence with 30 years suspended. Rohde noted there are three known victims who each now have a “life sentence.” Rohde also broached the possibility that there are even more victims and that Burg has a sexual addiction. Rohde also raised concerns that at the time of his arrest, Burg was trying to get involved in an AWANAs childrens program at a local church.
Defense attorney Greg Paskell asked for a 25-year commitment to the Department of Corrections with 20 years suspended, saying that Burg knows he needs help and wants to get better.
Paskell also said that no one would leave the courtroom that day who wasn’t sad or shocked.
YOUNG LIVES BROKEN
Letters from two of the victims were read in open court. Both girls wrote of having trust issues, low self-esteem, being fearful much of the time and struggling to cope with what happened to them.
Dr. Sheri Vanino, a clinical trauma specialist counselor from Denver, provided expert testimony of how the sense of shame and powerlessness in such cases can follow children for their entire lives. It also often leads to other problems such as substance abuse, promiscuity and eating disorders.
“There’s no easy way out for a child sex victim,” said Vanino.
The only way to overcome it, said Vanino, is to face it head-on and work through it.
According to court documents, the victim was a young teenager when the crimes occurred approximately six or seven years ago.
The sheriff’s office was contacted by a local pastor when Burg allegedly admitted to having “improper sexual conduct” with one of the victims when he applied to work in the church’s youth program.
Burg has also allegedly made several admissions about improper sexual conduct involving both victims to a marriage counselor, which were subsequently reported to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Child Abuse Hotline, according to court documents.
When interviewed by Chief Deputy Woody Claunch, Burg’s wife allegedly admitted to being aware of “several incidents” involving Burg and the victims. She also said that Burg recently had made admissions to her, according to court documents.
Burg requested an attorney when questioned by Claunch.
The arrest was the culmination of a 5-month investigation by the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office. Burg was arrested in Yellowstone County without incident by the U.S. Marshals Violent Offender Task Force.