SOUTH BEND — A 22-year-old man who sexually molested a 12-year-old last year while he was a student at the University of Notre Dame was sentenced to six years in prison Friday.
Ackley F. John appeared before St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Roland Chamblee in black dress pants, a black dress shirt and tie. He bowed his head with his arms behind his back as the judge weighed his sentence.
John could have received up to 20 years in prison for child molesting, a class B felony under state law. The statutory minimum was six years.
John admitted in November to engaging in sexual acts with a 12-year-old South Bend girl whom he met on MySpace. He was a Notre Dame senior at the time, less than two months from graduating.
"It appears there’s a side of Mr. John that even his own family was not aware of," Deputy Prosecutor Christy Haws said.
She added later: "It wasn’t just a simple mistake. It was a relationship, if you want to call it that, over a period of time, with a child."
John was arrested April 4 on Notre Dame’s campus and was released two days later after posting $3,000 bond.
Haws had argued that John should receive a 10-year sentence, with eight years in prison and two years suspended, to be served on probation.
Though John had initially thought the victim was 18, he eventually learned she was younger than that and continued seeing her, even when he knew he was breaking the law. They had three encounters, two of them sexual, according to John.
But John’s attorney, William Stanley, portrayed John as a driven, intelligent person who worked his whole life to go to Notre Dame and derailed his dreams with decisions for which he was truly sorry.
Stanley asked the judge to put John on 24-hour house arrest with GPS monitoring for six years, rather than give him a prison sentence.
After hearing Haws’ and Stanley’s recommendations, Chamblee retreated to his chambers to weigh John’s sentence.
Meanwhile, John sat with his mother, father and brother. His mother cried for the entire hearing, and her wails grew louder as they waited for Chamblee to return with a sentence.
She became near-hysterical when he delivered the six-year term. The judge told John:
"You have an absolute uphill battle as it relates to your future. ... You’re a young man. Bounce back. Let the past be your guide."
John nodded as his mother wailed.
"Oh God, my son," she said, sobbing so loudly that extra security came into the courtroom. "I can’t do it. I can’t do it. He’s a good person who made a mistake!"
John’s father, who had remained stoic throughout the hearing, broke down while he hugged his handcuffed son goodbye.
His mother collapsed after John left the courtroom. Medics were called to treat her, but she was not taken to the hospital.
Soon after, Chamblee spoke to The Tribune in the courthouse rotunda about the dramatic scene in his courtroom.
"These are the real-life consequences of the things that happen in this building," he said, shaking his head.
Staff writer Mary Kate Malone: