Man convicted in Benton County of child sexual assault

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldDecember 12, 2012 

A 42-year-old man could be locked up for the rest of his life after a Benton County jury took just 45 minutes to convict him of sexually assaulting three boys and one girl.

Michael Leon Shemesh is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9 if a background report is done in time by community corrections officers.

Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long -- who was pleased with the guilty verdicts following a taxing, 11-day trial -- said Shemesh is looking at a minimum prison term of 20 years.

"We were very happy with the outcome. It had been pending for a very long time," Long told the Herald on Tuesday. "We're glad the (families) have finally been able to get closure. They've been waiting three years to come to trial."

The case was filed Aug. 4, 2009, in Benton County Superior Court, and Shemesh has had several attorneys in that time. He was represented in trial by Kevin Holt.

Shemesh of Richland repeatedly told the court during pretrial hearings that he believed he could not get a fair trial.

He was charged with three counts of first-degree rape of a child, two counts of second-degree possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct and one count of first-degree child molestation.

The rape and molestation charges also included aggravating circumstances that there was an ongoing pattern of sexual abuse and he used his position of trust to commit the crimes.

The trial started Nov. 26 before Judge Carrie Runge. The case went to the jury Monday afternoon and they returned 45 minutes later with guilty verdicts on all six charges and findings on the aggravating circumstances.

Long said it was a first for her that all 12 jurors were men.

The only woman on the panel was removed before deliberations during the random selection of two alternates.

According to Long and court documents, the crimes involving the different victims occurred in 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007.

Shemesh, in addition to repeatedly raping and sexually assaulting a preschool-aged boy and a grade-school boy, videotaped them in various positions, Long said.

The two boys can be seen talking to each other on the video, which is how prosecutors know of the age difference. However, one of the victims never has been identified.

"We just can't figure out who he is," she said.

The other two victims, both grade-school age, reported being raped by Shemesh. The girl testified that Shemesh took multiple pictures of her but investigators never located those, Long said.

Shemesh claimed in an early interview with police that he touched the girl once when applying a rash cream, and the boy once when removing a hair from his genitals, documents said.

The two kids said Shemesh had threatened to shoot them if they didn't participate in sex acts with him, so they were afraid for some time to tell anyone about the abuse.

Long added that other kids have made allegations against Shemesh dating to 1994 but prosecutors didn't proceed with charges for various reasons, like the young age of one victim. She noted that Shemesh used to be around a lot of kids through his work with a Pokmon gaming league.

Shemesh had no felony convictions before this case.

The three known victims all live in other states now, but returned to the Tri-Cities for the trial.

Long said she's glad they were able to face their abuser. "It was very difficult for them. It was a tough one," she said.

One of the boys featured in the video knew he had been sexually assaulted by Shemesh but didn't realize until the trial that he also had been taped, she said.

The jury had to watch more than four hours of videos.

After the verdicts, six jurors reportedly stayed to talk with the judge and lawyers.

Long said she asked if they would have convicted on the other counts if Richland police hadn't been able to support the other charges by finding the videos. She was told yes.

"They said the two boys were years apart in their molestation and rapes, but what they described was so similar, (Shemesh's) actions for them, and they had never met or discussed the case," Long said, referring to the identified boy in the video and the other boy who was raped years later. "The jury found that very compelling."

Long plans to ask the court for a 20-year sentence, but may ask for additional time because of the special verdicts for the ongoing pattern of abuse and the trust violation. Shemesh could receive a maximum term of life in prison because of the rapes and child molestation.

After he serves the mandatory minimum and any extra time for the aggravating circumstances, Shemesh can petition the state's Indeterminate Sentence Review Board for release.

The board then decides if he should remain behind bars or if he is a good candidate to return to society based on his participation in any treatment programs or other activities in prison.

Shemesh had been in the Benton County jail on $100,000 bail. However, now that he has been convicted of felony sex crimes, he is being held without bail pending sentencing.

Long said she has been told that once her case is wrapped up, federal prosecutors will proceed with charges against Shemesh for having a pipe bomb when investigators searched his home and storage sheds for the pictures and sex videos.

He also is in custody on a U.S. Marshal's hold.

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