A child sexual assault case that came to light from a “safe touch” demonstration in an elementary school classroom ended Thursday in a Deschutes County courtroom with Derek Gale Starbuck, a 38-year-old logging foreman from La Pine, getting 25 years in prison.
But, according to a condition opposed by his victim’s family, he’ll be able to earn up to 20 months off his sentence for good behavior in prison.
Starbuck was arrested the same day his abusive relationship with a family member came to light: April 13, 2017. His victim pulled her teacher out of class after a lesson on appropriate touching to say Starbuck had been touching her “not safe areas” for more than a year. Law enforcement and the Department of Human Services were notified, and within hours, sheriff’s detectives had picked up Starbuck and got confessions from him.
Starbuck was initially charged with 26 first-degree felonies, including 16 falling under Jessica’s Law, which provides stiffer penalties when the victim is younger than 12, and 10 considered Measure 11 offenses, which carry mandatory minimum sentences.
Last week, he pleaded guilty to attempting to commit a Class B felony and first-degree sodomy. He used an Alford plea on three additional charges — two counts of attempting to commit a Class A felony and one count of first-degree sodomy. Alford pleas are treated as convictions, although defendants don’t admit guilt.
The doors to Judge Wells Ashby’s courtroom on Thursday were held open so the overflow crowd in the second-floor lobby of the Deschutes County Courthouse could hear. In attendance were Starbuck’s mother, father, sisters, supporters of his victim and a number of plainclothes detectives to maintain order and help transport Starbuck to and from the courtroom.
Many listening heard for the first time what Starbuck did.
Deputy District Attorney Brandi Shroyer said the charges Starbuck pleaded guilty to were meant to address several types of abuse that the victim described and that Starbuck confessed to.
Next to speak was Jamie Gerlitz, a Bend defense attorney who has advised Starbuck’s ex-wife, Lauren, on the case.
Throughout plea negotiations, Lauren Starbuck insisted that this was a Jessica’s Law case and should be treated as such, Gerlitz said. District Attorney John Hummel didn’t agree, and Gerlitz said she looked for possible ways to achieve a mandatory 25-year sentence, which is what Jessica’s Law requires. Gerlitz told Ashby the safest route for appellate purposes is to not allow time off for good behavior for some of the offenses in Starbuck’s plea deal.
“From (the victim’s) perspective, this is something she’s going to be dealing with for her whole life,” Gerlitz said. “This wasn’t a single act; it is many acts over a long period of time involving significant manipulation and are deserving of the 300 months without good time.”
Lauren Starbuck began her remarks by reading a letter by the victim to Derek Starbuck.
“I really do hate you, and I don’t use that word a lot, but I really do hate you, and I don’t understand why you did this to me,” she said. “I don’t think 100 years would be enough. You deserve a horrible rest of your life. I wish I would have told sooner, but I’m glad I told when I did.”
Lauren Starbuck explained the ways her life changed drastically since April 13, 2017.
After returning home from school with her kids, she started packing. She left home, eventually moving in with her parents in Arizona. Within months, she’d divorced her husband and sold the house.
“I still don’t fully understand the layers of betrayal, deceit, manipulation and abuse that were happening in our home,” she said. “I am here today because I want you to clearly understand that financially, physically and emotionally, my children and I have been devastated by one man.”
Starbuck’s attorney, Valerie Wright, said his parents and other relatives were interested in reconnecting with Derek’s children.
She said the results of a psychosexual evaluation show Starbuck is a “strong candidate for rehabilitation.”
Starbuck wore a jail-issued navy shirt and pants and sat facing forward with his hands together for most of the hearing. Wright said he’d been asked to sit this way to help maintain peace in the courtroom and that he wasn’t intending to ignore anyone in the gallery.
He read a statement apologizing to his victim and others affected by his crimes.
“I know that actions speak louder than words, and I know that because I acted so wrongly, my words matter less than most,” he said.
The judge spoke last. He explained to the victim’s mother his rationale for allowing time off for good behavior in his sentence — it’s an effective prison management tool, especially for inmates serving long sentences.
Ashby expressed his sorrow to Lauren Starbuck and thanked her for being in court.
“I never got used to the extent to which people hurt each other, the level of pain and devastation that I hear in court. I haven’t gotten used to it, and I don’t think I ever will,” he told her. “There is a path forward for you. It’s not the path anybody planned. It’s not the path that anybody would wish on you, but there is a path ... I think the only thing that eclipses the devastation that I hear as a judge, is the strength and the grace and the inexplicable ability of people to overcome.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org