Crime

Repeat sex offender sentenced for abuse of Bellingham girls

A repeat sex offender will serve at least a decade in prison for molesting two preteen girls over the course of about three years, a Whatcom County judge has ruled.

Raymond Joe Wagner, 43, can serve up to life in prison for the crimes.

Wagner, a former resident of Samish Way, knew the girls’ parents. Often he babysat for them. In 2013, the parents heard a rumor that Wagner was a sex offender. They asked their older girl if she had ever been taken advantage of by someone, according to court records.

“Ray raped me,” she said, in tears.

Two days later the girl told a Bellingham police detective she was raped at least once a week for two years.

The detective, Pauline Renick, interviewed the girl’s sister the same day. She described frequent sexual abuse that started about three years earlier. She said she feared Wagner — a 6-foot, 260-pound man — because he was big.

Police arrested Wagner on March 29, 2013. He spent the next two years in county jail.

At first he denied the sex abuse but admitted the circumstances “looked bad,” because of his criminal history.

Wagner had been convicted of molesting another girl in 2007. In that case, too, he befriended the victim’s family and babysat the girl, 14. One day Wagner’s wife walked in on him sexually touching her, according to charging papers. The girl said she’d tried to get him to stop by saying, “No,” three times. Wagner was sentenced to six months in jail for child molestation in the third degree.

Three years later, in 2010, Wagner was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender. At that time he was a Level I sex offender, considered the least likely to offend again.

Police investigated him for failing to register again, when the new molestation charges came to light, but he was never charged with that crime. He’d been staying with the girls’ parents off and on. The parents were out of the house, the girls said, when Wagner abused them.

Wagner made threats to harm the older girl and her family if she ever told anyone, she told police. That kept her from coming forward earlier, she said. She confided to the detective, in a follow-up interview, that Wagner beat her once when he found out she had a boyfriend.

Wagner pleaded guilty to two counts of child molestation in the first degree in June. Weeks later, in an interview with a Department of Corrections evaluator, he admitted to sexually abusing the girls. He said he was ready to get sex offender treatment.

This month Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig approved the plea deal reached by Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Quinn and the deputy public defender, Alan Chalfie.

Wagner must serve a minimum of 10 years behind bars, Uhrig ruled. After that, he can still be held in prison indefinitely, if a sentence review board finds he remains an imminent danger to society. He must get counseling, a sex offender evaluation and treatment.

As of Friday, Sept. 11, Wagner was serving his time at the Washington state prison in Shelton.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bhamcaleb.

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