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Sex offender avoids prison in plea bargain

Dec 19, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A judge Thursday morning gave a man what he described as a "lenient" sentence in line with a plea agreement with prosecutors for sexually abusing a minor despite the judge's reservations. The victim's parents at the hearing called for a tougher punishment.

District Court Judge Marvin Tyler sentenced Zachary Fuhriman according to a deal with prosecutors to serve three years of supervised probation. If the man completes probation, he will avoid three to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine, both of which Tyler suspended. Taylor also explained that convicted felons are also not allowed to use or be around guns.

"To me, this is a very lenient plea agreement compared to how it started out," Tyler said, referring to a stiffer, original charge. "It's still a lenient agreement for third-degree sexual abuse of a minor."

Earlier in the hearing, Fuhriman, as part of an agreement, pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor. Between December 2012 and February 2013, Fuhriman said, he had intercourse with a 16-year-old girl in a vehicle in the Government Draw area while he was 29 years old.

Prosecutors originally charged the man with sexual exploitation of a minor, which carries a penalty of five to 12 years in prison, but later dismissed that count, filed the sexual abuse charge and reached a deal with Fuhriman.

An affidavit in the case stated Fuhriman met the girl while working as a youth counselor in 2007. He left his counseling position that same year.

"He's made a mockery of being a church leader and a mockery of the people who put him in that place," the victim's mother said. "I do not believe the plea agreement is justice for him to walk away with a slap on the wrist and no jail time."

In a letter read aloud to the court, the victim's father said that over several years Fuhriman manipulated his daughter to a point where she would consent to have sex with him. He called it the behavior of a predator.

"My biggest fear with Zach is my daughter won't be the last life he ruins," the father stated.

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett defended the agreement.

The facts of the case showed the sex was consensual, he said. The fact does not affect the legality of the actions, but, according to the Wyoming Supreme Court, it should influence the sentence, Bennett said.

A psychological evaluation showed Fuhriman was not likely to reoffend, and probation would give him a change to rehabilitate himself, Bennett said.

"It is so easy to send some one to prison," he said. "When some one demonstrates they want to be rehabilitated, I want to help that person."

Still, Bennett said punishment was in order.

"He violated what my office believes is a social contract between grown men and the community: You leave high school girls alone so they can be high school kids," he said.

Bennett thought the agreed-upon sentence included a significant penalty.

Blake Fuhriman agreed that what his brother, the defendant, did was wrong, but he asked the judge to give him a second chance.

"I do think my brother can fix himself..., but if he does it again, I'll gather the posse," Blake Fuhriman said.

The defendant's lawyer, James Whiting, told the judge his client had cooperated fully with law enforcement, and without his help, they would not have much of a case.

Being prohibited from hunting with his family and teaching his daughter to shoot would be painful for him, Zachary Fuhriman said. He also promised to rehabilitate himself.

"I am deeply sorry for what I've done, but no amount of words will make it right," Fuhriman said. "I hope those I've hurt can forgive me."

Tyler said he had difficulty deciding on a sentence that would take into account all sides of the case.

"I will, with some reluctance, go along with the plea agreement," Tyler said.

The judge then entered the conviction and explained that Fuhriman, while on probation, largely would be prohibited form contacting or being around children other than his own. He would also have to keep 350 feet away from the victim and her family and would not be able to contact them.

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