PRESCOTT (AP) — A judge on Friday sentenced the son of Arizona Senate President Ken Bennett to 30 days in jail and his fellow counselor to 45 days for a series of hazings at a youth camp near Prescott last June.
Clifton Bennett, 18, and fellow counselor Kyle Wheeler, 19, admitted to abusing 18 boys ages 11 to 14 — who had been hand-picked for a weeklong leadership camp — by poking them in the rear end with broomsticks, a flashlight and a cane as a punishment or just because they were in a bad mood.
The boys wore underwear or swim trucks at the time of the "broomings," records show.
Records also show Wheeler choked many of the boys until they passed out as a game.
The Yavapai County Attorney's Office had asked that Bennett be sentenced to 90 days in jail and Wheeler to 180. The office also had asked for 500 hours of community service and probation for both.
In addition to the jail time, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Thomas O'Toole ordered both Bennett and Wheeler to perform 200 hours of community service and spend three years on supervised probation. If they complete all the terms of probation, their crime will be considered a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
The sentence was handed down after an emotional day of testimony by victims' parents and the families of the defendants.
More than a dozen victims' parents spoke, calling the hazing sexual assault and molestation despite findings by state experts that there was no sexual intent behind the "broomings."
Both sides of the case expressed disappointment with the sentence. Family members and victims called it too lenient and said Bennett got a deal because of his father's position, while Bennett's family said he was treated with more scrutiny because of his father.
Bennett and Wheeler had each been charged with 18 counts of kidnapping and 18 counts of aggravated assault. Bennett was allowed to plead guilty to one assault charge while Wheeler pleaded guilty to two charges. Prosecutors dropped the other charges.
One of the victims, 13-year-old Zack Motcheck, said the two counselors should have gotten at least one year in jail.
"What they did was wrong," he said. "Maybe it was a game for them, but it wasn't for us. We were all afraid."
Wheeler and Bennett apologized in court.
"I used to tell myself that I made a big mistake," Bennett told the judge before he was sentenced. "It's more than that. I compromised these kids' ability to live their lives. I failed these kids.
As he looked at the victims and their parents, Wheeler said: "I know you're all very mad at me. I'm sorry you're all hurt so much. I just really hope you all can forgive me."
Dale Motcheck, Zach's father, said he had mixed feelings about the apologies.
"Wheeler was so sincere, I was moved by him," he said. "But Bennett sounded almost scripted and it didn't sound sincere. He was being told what to say and exactly how to say it."
Afterward, Bennett and his father left the courthouse from the back to avoid media attention.
When reporters caught up with them, the elder Bennett said his son had made an unfortunate decision.
When asked how he felt about the sentence, Bennett said: "How would you feel if your son were going to jail?"
On the Net:
Yavapai County Attorney's Office: www.co.yavapai.az.us/departments/Aty/AtyHome.asp
Sen. Ken Bennett: www.azleg.state.az.us/MembersPage.asp?Member—ID63