A Richland man confessed to molesting young girls. It wasn’t his first time

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A 36-year-old Richland man thought he deserved leniency for molesting three girls because he’s the one who revealed the crimes to police.

Todd M. Nef showed up at the Richland police station last January with his church bishop to disclose the ongoing sexual assaults.

Police weren’t yet aware of the abuse, and Nef admitted he was fearful it would become worse if he didn’t do something, according to defense attorney Caleb DiPeso.

“When he confessed, he basically walked into a life sentence and put himself in jeopardy of never being released,” DiPeso said in a sentencing document. “Once the wrongs were done, there was nothing more he could have done. And had he not confessed, there is a realistic possibility that the crimes may never have been discovered, or not discovered for many years.”

Nef believed a 20-year prison sentence was excessive since he was forthcoming with detectives. He thought 15 years was more appropriate, while his lawyer recommended about 12 1/2 years — well below the standard range for the four sex crimes.

Deputy Prosecutor Laurel Holland asked for 26 1/2 years at the top of the range.

Judge Cameron Mitchell settled on the 20-year term Tuesday in Benton County Superior Court.

That was the mandatory minimum, with a maximum of life behind bars. That means Nef must serve 20 years before a state board will review his case and decide if he is ready for release. He also must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Child molestation charge

Nef pleaded guilty in May to first-degree rape of a child, attempted second-degree child molestation and two counts of second-degree child molestation.

This wasn’t the first time Nef confessed — with the aid of his church bishop — to a sex crime.

When Nef was 20 and living in Idaho, he came forward about molesting a girl. He was 16 when he committed the crime.

Charged as a juvenile, he was convicted in 2002 of lewd conduct with a child under 16.

In the recent case, Nef told Richland police it started with him innocently touching the girls and escalated to sexual abuse.

The crimes occurred in late 2017 and in 2018.

A community corrections officer noted in the presentencing report that Nef “still minimizes the magnitude of his crime and the magnitude of the pain he has caused” the victims and his own family.

However, DiPeso said his client is remorseful.

“He did the right thing when he walked into a police station, knowing he would not walk out a free man, and told the police, without minimizing or equivocating, about the terrible things he had done,” wrote DiPeso. “This can be fairly considered a good faith effort to compensate his victims ...”

“It is hard to imagine what more Mr. Nef could have done to assist the state,” he added. “Obviously, he could not undo the harm once it was done, but he did the next best possible thing.”

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.