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Stephon Hiler

Stephon Hiler, right, in court Thursday with his lawyer, Michael Covey

A man who took part in the sexual assault of an intoxicated 17-year-old girl last year at a halfway house for sex offenders, who killed herself a month after the assault, was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison.

Stephon K. Hiler, 23, who had been sent to the group home only a short time before the assault took place, part of a sentence of probation he received in Racine County for the sexual assault there of a 12-year-old girl, apologized for what happened to the girl, and asked for help from Dane County Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara in getting treatment for his sex offenses.

“She had no chance,” McNamara said before sentencing Hiler. “She had no chance whatsoever. You didn’t need a gun. This is as violent a sexual assault as any we can imagine.”

On June 24, 2016, Hiler received a five-year prison sentence for the Racine County sexual assault. But Circuit Judge John Jude stayed the sentence and placed Hiler on probation. By July 8, 2016, when a criminal complaint says that Hiler and three other men sexually assaulted the 17-year-old girl, Hiler was only weeks into serving his sentence.

The girl had left a group home where she was living and was with Nathan J. Thompson, 19, who took her to the halfway house in the town of Blooming Grove where Hiler was living with two other sex offenders, James Phillips, 33, and Reginald Patton, 26. By the time she arrived, she had already used marijuana and ecstasy.

Phillips has also pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault and is awaiting sentencing in September. Patton and Thompson are scheduled for a trial in November.

Hiler’s 20-year sentence would begin in 2021, after he finishes serving the sentence in the Racine County case, for which his probation was revoked.

McNamara said that taken to a strange house in a strange part of town, and taken to a basement room where there were four men, the intoxicated girl had no chance.

“I’ve never seen a sexual assault that involved four men simultaneously attacking a girl,” McNamara said. “That makes this worse.”

Earlier, the girl’s grandfather recounted the life she lived in which she was born to young parents not ready to care for her, eventually to end up living with her father and soon-to-be stepmom, until her father died from a heroin overdose in 2014.

“Her world was turned upside down,” her grandfather said.

She was shuttled between family members to live, unable to find happiness. Finding herself in trouble, she was placed at a group home in Madison.

After the sex assault, Deputy District Attorney Rachel Sattler said, the girl went back to the group home, where police were not called and she was just told to rest and clean up. She ended up in custody for leaving the group home that night.

“I was disgusted by the fact that she was being treated as a criminal,” her stepmother said, recalling seeing the girl in court in handcuffs. “That day I saw the pain in her eyes.”

She seemed to make progress in counseling, her stepmother said, and she asked her family to stand by her as she dealt with the aftermath of the rape. But not long after a final counseling session where her stepmom said it seemed that progress had been made, she was found hanging by a sheet at the group home. She died a few days later.

“Looking back, I should have known that she was scared to have to deal with all that was to come and having to face what happened to her,” the girl’s stepmom said. “It was too much for a 17-year-old.”

Sattler said the case has been among the hardest in her career and talked at length about the effect it’s had on her.

“It devastated me,” she said of attending the girl’s funeral. “It shook my soul.”

But the girl’s actions before she died, Sattler said, telling authorities what happened to her, ensured that Hiler and the others would be held to account for what they did.

“There are no mitigating circumstances,” she said, “only depravity, only trauma.”

Hiler’s lawyer, Michael Covey, argued for a six-year prison sentence for Hiler, urging McNamara to consider the lifelong deficits Hiler has had since he was born prematurely as a result of a car crash involving his mother.

“I’ve never argued that a tough childhood is a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Covey said. “But in this case, how can we not take into account his childhood issues?”

Covey also blamed the state Department of Corrections for failing to monitor the home where Hiler and the other men lived. He said Hiler was placed there with older, experienced sex offenders, and that substance abuse there was rampant.

“That house was an animal house long before (Hiler) got there,” Covey said. “I don’t think DOC had any idea what environment they were putting him into.”

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