NILES -- The latest of the five Niles teens to be sentenced in the sex video extortion scandal has received the lightest sentence so far. Trey Nichols was sentenced Tuesday morning in Berrien County Trial Court to three years in prison.
Nichols had faced 11 charges in connection with the March, 2011 scandal, in large part because he was charged in other incidents separate from his codefendants. He accepted a plea deal in late November to plead guilty to two charges, a five-year felony of surveilling an unclothed person and a 10-year felony of assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct.
Berrien County Trial Judge Scott Schofield sentenced Nichols to two concurrent prison terms, one term of 18 months in prison for surveilling an unclothed person and one term of three years in prison for assault with intent to commit CSC. He must register as a sex offender and will not be allowed to spend his prison term in boot camp. He was given credit for 107 days served.
Only one codefendant remains to be sentenced. Martell Miller pleaded guilty to even lesser charges in December and is likely to receive a local jail term and not prison when he's sentenced Jan. 30. So far, Martise Washington received a 20 year prison term, Leon Murphy seven years and Parnell Martin four years.
At Tuesday's sentencing, two different storylines about Nichols as well as the scandal emerged.
According to Nichols, his attorney, Tat Parish and one of the victims who spoke, he's a good kid who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They stressed that he was an honor student and star athlete and, as the victim said, not doing anything that more than half of high school students do.
"If you're going to send him to prison, you should send more than half of the students at the high school to prison," she said.
"It's not fair. ... He doesn't deserve to sit in prison or be on the sex registry. He's having his life ruined for one mistake. He's one of many who have done this but one of the only ones who got caught. He doesn't deserve this."
Parish asked Schofield to depart downward from the guidelines of 19 to 38 months in prison and give Nichols a local jail sentence. "No matter what, he's going to be severely punished, this is going to prevent him from having a productive life he otherwise would have had," he said.
"He was an outstanding student and an outstanding athlete, he enjoys the respect and goodwill of a great segment of the community," he added. "He graduated from high school while he was incarcerated and started college. He's lost a scholarship and he's going to be handicapped for years with having to register as a sex offender. That's a terrible handicap."
Nichols said he never witnessed the extortion or the sexual assaults committed by his codefendants on March 18. "I never said I shouldn't be punished," he said. "I have had people call me a rapist and people who say they want to kill me. That affects me. This is affecting my whole life. I wanted to do great things. ... I don't think you can fathom how deeply this has affected my life, I want to move on."
Schofield and Assistant Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli didn't dispute Nichols' school record but said his involvement in the scandal showed something about his character. They also took exception to many of the letters sent in by community members on Nichols' behalf including one that stated that the March 18 victim was not worth Nichols being sent to prison.
"There's a difference between character and reputation," Pierangeli said. "He has a reputation that's sterling but character is different. ... He had a moral obligation to step up for the victim when he knew she was being abused. He may not have been legally obligated, but he was morally obligated."
"I don't hold it against you," Schofield told Nichols in speaking of the dozens of letters sent in to the court on Nichols' behalf. "But I am disappointed that in my community there is not more recognition of the harm you and your codefendants caused the young women in these incidents."
"I heard what a shame it was what happened to the young men and their lives being ruined but precious little appreciation of the harm done to the young women involved," he said. "And there is precious little in your (Nichols') letters too about the harm you caused."
"You are responsible for the choices you made," he said. "You're not unlucky, but the victim of your bad choices. When you knew what your friends were doing, you didn't separate yourself from them. ... You had an opportunity to stop it, and you didn't."