Crime

Whatcom County man gets 26 years to life for sex abuse of girl

A Whatcom County man must spend at least 26 ½ years in prison for the repeated sexual abuse of a young girl.

The girl came forward in February 2014 to report that Ronald Lee Kirkwood, 53, started molesting her when she was around the age of 5. He lived near Deming at the time.

She recounted that, as a young girl, she had been sexually assaulted two to four times a month. She reported the most recent sexual abuse happened after she turned 15 years old.

Detectives sat down with Kirkwood in March 2014. At one point he acknowledged he often walked around naked in his bedroom. Sometimes his dog pushed the door open, so the girl may have seen him nude, but Kirkwood stated he never blatantly exposed himself to her, according to charging papers.

Later in the interview he recalled a time he had hugged the girl when he was nude.

Kirkwood was booked into Whatcom County Jail on March 18, 2014. As he was being taken into custody, he asked police questions about the charges against him. In that conversation, Kirkwood admitted he had performed oral sex on the girl about four times in Whatcom County, according to a prosecutor’s affidavit.

Since then Kirkwood has claimed he was manipulated into making a confession, and that the charges against him had been manufactured by the girl’s mother.

A trial lasted five days last summer. Kirkwood and the girl both testified. The jury deliberated for a few hours, on the morning of Sept. 10, before finding Kirkwood guilty of four counts of first-degree child rape.

All of my childhood memories I want to forget because they are attached to him and the stuff he did.

Teen who said she was molested repeatedly from age 5 to 15.

On Tuesday, Feb. 16, the girl and her mother asked Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis to give Kirkwood the maximum sentence.

“All of my childhood memories I want to forget because they are attached to him and the stuff he did,” the girl said. “I ask myself if I will ever feel happy again.” (The Bellingham Herald does not name victims of sexual abuse.)

The deputy prosecutor, Jeffrey Sawyer, asked for the top prison term allowed under state sentencing guidelines: 26 ½ years to life. He argued that four counts of child rape don’t reflect how the sexual abuse lasted years.

“This case,” Sawyer said, “is not a typical case.”

Kirkwood’s attorney, Doug Hyldahl, argued that the case was not so different from other sex abuse cases that had been before the court.

“None of these types of acts is good,” he said. “These are no worse than them.”

Hyldahl asked for a sentence of about 20 ½ years, near the bottom of the standard range. Kirkwood had no previous felonies on his record.

I’ve heard that many ask for forgiveness at sentencing. But how can I ask for forgiveness for something I did not do?

Ronald Lee Kirkwood, convicted last year on four counts of first-degree child rape

Kirkwood, a former U.S. Navy sailor turned sheet metal worker, maintains his innocence. On Tuesday he read aloud from a statement handwritten on a sheet of ruled paper.

“I will fight this conviction until my dying day, because I am an innocent man,” he told the judge. “I believe God has me going through all of this for a reason. Is it to show how easy it is to condemn someone? Or is it to help someone in a similar situation? I don’t know.”

He told the judge he had been convicted without proof.

“I’ve heard that many ask for forgiveness at sentencing,” Kirkwood continued. “But how can I ask for forgiveness for something I did not do?”

The judge, Montoya-Lewis, disagreed with his contention that the case had been easy — “for anyone, including the court.” She pointed to how challenging it had been for the girl to testify on the witness stand, as she faced her abuser.

“The days of evading the consequences of your behavior, Mr. Kirkwood, have ended today,” Montoya-Lewis said.

She ordered him to serve a minimum of 26 ½ years in prison. If a sentence review board finds him unfit for release, he could serve up to life behind bars.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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