A former Illinois police officer accused of raping a girl over a decade abruptly ended his trial Tuesday by pleading guilty – as the victim was testifying against him in court.
Kane County officials said the female victim, still a minor, had already spent a half-hour painfully recounting years of abuse by David L. Wright when his attorney interrupted her testimony.
“The victim had been on the witness stand for about 30 minutes emotionally describing the crimes committed against her when Wright without warning chose to plead guilty, ending the trial,” the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
According to the Chicago Daily Herald, Kane County Circuit Judge D.J. Tegeler excoriated Wright as he accepted the plea agreement.
“You have not done anything but ruin her,” Tegeler told Wright, the newspaper reported. “For you to make her take the witness stand at all, I find reprehensible.”
The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Wright, 55, agreed to a sentence of 23 years in prison for pleading guilty to two counts of criminal sexual assault, each a Class 1 felony, the state’s attorney’s office said.
When he was arrested last April, Wright was charged with 33 felonies, including 16 counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and six counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, according to court records. In total, those charges would have carried anywhere from 143 to 648 years in prison, officials said.
Under his plea agreement, Wright must register for life as a sexual offender. The plea includes an order of protection that prohibits Wright from having any contact with the victim for five years after his release. He received credit for 478 days he had served in the Kane County Jail since he was arrested.
“Quite frankly, I think 500 years sounds reasonable,” Tegeler told Wright as he accepted the plea, the Herald reported.
During the trial, prosecutors described how Wright repeatedly assaulted the girl from 2005 to 2015 – including how it began, when she was in second grade and taken into Wright’s bathroom, prosecutor Lori Schmidt told The Washington Post.
“He told her it was going to hurt,” Schmidt said. “And she screamed.”
It is not unheard of, but also not common, for people to enter a plea in the middle of a trial, said Schmidt, who is assigned to the Kane County Child Advocacy Center. In Illinois, witnesses are presumed competent, meaning even minors have to testify in court – though there are accommodations granted for some children, such as letting them sit with an advocate or bring a comfort item with them to the witness stand, she said.
However, if Wright had pleaded guilty before the trial began, he would have spared the girl from having to testify, Schmidt said.
Facing their abusers or reliving their abuse through testimony can be difficult and potentially re-traumatizing for some victims, according to many advocacy groups.
“The idea of testifying may feel overwhelming or intimidating for some survivors of sexual violence,” reads a statement on the website for the Rape Abuse Incest National Network, or RAINN, a nonprofit that advocates for survivors of sex crimes. “Everyone responds differently to sharing their experience publicly, and testifying in court is no exception.”
At the time of his arrest, Wright was a police officer in Elburn, a suburban village about 55 miles west of Chicago.
Wright joined the Elburn Police Department as a sworn officer on Oct. 6, 1991, according to the department. His record showed a few oral reprimands for policy violations and one suspension for “a failure to supervise while he was in a supervisory position,” Chief Nicholas Sikora told The Post in an email.
The department became aware of the case against Wright on April 24, 2015, and put him on paid administrative leave the next day, Sikora said.
Wright was moved to unpaid administrative leave about a week later, before retiring from the department on May 5, 2015, Sikora said.
The police chief declined to comment further on Wright’s arrest and trial.
After a decade of abuse, the victim came forward last year when she was receiving treatment for depression, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“I cannot overstate the tremendous courage shown by this victim since this case was reported,” Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said in a statement. “Her life has been unimaginably altered, and we are proud of her willingness to speak out and confront her abuser.”
Young sexual abuse victims often avoid or delay telling someone about the abuse because they are afraid of backlash or of being hurt by the abuser, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, citing various studies.
In addition, contrary to a belief encapsulated by phrases like “stranger danger,” the justice department found the majority of child sexual abuse victims know their perpetrators. However, this and many other studies noted that it can be difficult to get accurate statistics, because many cases of child sexual abuse go unreported.
“As far as waiting [10 years] to disclose, this isn’t uncommon in sex abuse cases,” Schmidt told The Post. “Sometimes, people never disclose.”