BELLINGHAM - A Bellingham man must serve 1 1/2 years in prison for molesting a girl who was younger than 13.
Michael Lee Howard, 57, a U.S. Marine with two honorable discharges, sexually assaulted the girl about five years ago, according to records filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Detectives interviewed her in November 2012 at an advocacy center for child abuse victims. She recalled being molested by her neighbor twice when she lived on Texas Street.
A few weeks later, Howard went to the police station for an interview. He confessed he "might have accidentally touched her" several years ago. He wrote a letter of apology to the girl.
Even after pleading guilty to second-degree child molestation, he continued to deny doing anything wrong, according to the Department of Corrections. His evaluators asked him to write a statement about the crime, but Howard refused.
"I'm not really guilty of what I'm accused," he replied, according to court records.
"He stated that he is sorry for (the girl) since he must have done something to her to make her so mad at him as to accuse him of a crime," his evaluators wrote. "Howard seemed unable to take responsibility for not only this crime, but also for the removal of his children and his current financial situation."
Howard had no past felony convictions. Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett approved the 18-month sentence recommended in a plea bargain last week.
Howard's evaluators endorsed the plea bargain, too, along with some some special sentencing conditions. For example, he must undergo mental health treatment and pay for periodic polygraph tests.