James Phillips

James Phillips, right, in court Monday with his lawyer, Peter Bartelt.

A second man who pleaded guilty to repeatedly raping a 17-year-old girl last summer in state Department of Corrections-leased housing was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison.

A month after the July 2016 assault, the girl committed suicide.

James S. Phillips, 33, had a “unique role” in the case in that he was the only one of the four men who were charged to immediately confess in detail to having had a part in it, Dane County Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara said.

“If only you could have really been the hero and stopped this,” McNamara said.

“I can’t truly express how sorry I am for things that I did, for the things I’ve done wrong, especially the incident that happened that night,” Phillips said. “If I could trade places with her right now I would. But that’s one thing I can’t do. I just want to say I’m sorry, and I ask for forgiveness.”

Phillips, along with Stephon K. Hiler, 23, and Reginald Patton, 26, were three sex offenders being housed by DOC at a home on St. Paul Avenue in the town of Blooming Grove. A fourth man, Nathan J. Thompson, 19, who is charged with taking part in the assaults and brought the girl to the home, was on a Dane County Bail Monitoring Program bracelet at the time.

A state DOC spokesman did not say specifically whether DOC has investigated the placement and supervision of the men at the home, whether anyone at DOC has been disciplined as a result of the incident or what DOC would do in the future to prevent a similar occurrence.

Instead, spokesman Tristan Cook explained in an email DOC’s policy for housing released sex offenders, particularly those at risk of homelessness, and said that “DOC works with each (housing) vendor to establish appropriate security measures at each DOC-contracted housing site.” He added that DOC staff and police “can also access the housing site at any time to conduct scheduled and unscheduled visits.”

In a criminal complaint, Phillips told Dane County sheriff’s investigators that he “shoulda left” when Thompson brought the girl, who seemed intoxicated, to the home. Instead, Phillips said, he “was pulled in. I got sucked in like a magnet.” He described to police how the four men took turns raping the girl and “tossed her around like a rag doll.”

At the time, Phillips was on extended supervision after serving a five-year prison sentence for repeated sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl, who gave birth to a child. His extended supervision has been revoked, and he was sentenced to three years in prison. His new 15-year sentence will begin after that older sentence is finished.

Deputy District Attorney Rachel Sattler asked for a 15-year sentence. Phillips’ lawyer, Peter Bartelt, recommended an eight-year sentence, based on Phillips’ immediate confession to the crime.

While giving Phillips credit for his confession, McNamara said anything less than 15 years “would absolutely undermine and depreciate the gravity of your crimes here.”

Hiler was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison which will start in 2021, after he finishes serving an earlier child sexual assault sentence for which his probation was revoked.

Patton and Thompson are still awaiting a trial. Their trial had been set to begin in November, but because both have recently changed attorneys, the trial will be pushed back, likely into next year.

Speaking to the court Monday, the grandfather of the girl urged Patton and Thompson to drop their bid for a trial. He specifically addressed their lawyers, although Thompson has yet to be assigned a new lawyer.

“I don’t know how you can sleep at night defending what they did,” the girl’s grandfather said. “There must be a better way to collect a paycheck. Do the right thing and have them plead guilty.”

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Ed Treleven is the courts reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.