A Valparaiso man who sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl at a Lincoln church while on diversion for viewing child pornography got 35 to 45 years in prison Thursday.
Christian J. Hughes, 22, said he was praying for the girl, and that if he could go back and change everything, he would. Hughes, who is developmentally delayed, said it makes him feel horrible that she's not happy because of what he did.
"Almost every night I think, 'Why did I not walk away?'"
He pleaded no contest to attempted first-degree sexual assault of a child for what happened Oct. 23, 2016, at Calvary Community Church, 4400 N. First St.
In a probable cause affidavit for Hughes' arrest, Lincoln police said they became involved two months after the incident, when the girl told her mom that she thought she might be pregnant.
In a forensic interview, the girl said she was sitting outside the worship area waiting for the service to end when Hughes walked up to her and asked her to go for a walk. He took her to a family bathroom, told her to take off her clothes and sexually assaulted her, according to police.
Hughes admitted in a police interview Jan. 10 that what the girl said was true.
At sentencing Thursday, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Charles Byrd said Hughes' behaviors escalated as he grew older, starting with molesting other children when he was younger and viewing child pornography on a computer at his high school as a senior, and culminating in this offense on a child.
In light of this, he said, for the safety of the public, incarceration was appropriate.
Hughes' attorney, Sean Reagan, called it a heartrending case. Hughes has a bad history, but also potential to be an exceptional person, he said.
Reagan said Hughes knew some sort of punishment was on the way and wasn't asking for probation. But he asked for the low end of the range, as well as a recommendation that he get sex-offender treatment at the Norfolk Regional Center.
Hughes faced 1 to 50 years on the charge.
He wants to have treatment and is remorseful, Reagan said.
Lancaster County District Judge Darla Ideus said Hughes started viewing pornography, including child pornography, at a young age, and by the age of 21, this girl had become his fourth victim.
"I think you knew from the moment you went up to her and asked her to take a walk with you what you intended to do to her," she said. "You knew it was wrong, and you told her not to tell."
When it happened, he was on diversion for viewing child pornography at school, had been seeing a counselor for at least a year and was still secretly posting nude photos of children to a Facebook profile.
Ideus said all of that led her to conclude, if Hughes is not incarcerated, he is "going to have additional victims."
"I don't know what happened to you. I don't know what made you this way, but you have a sexual preoccupation with children that makes you a danger to the children who are exposed to you," Ideus said, adding that a significant sentence was necessary.
Hughes will have to serve at least 17½ years before he's eligible for parole and will have to register as a sex offender and be subject to community supervision for the rest of his life.