A former Montana high school athletics trainer was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on Tuesday for sexually abusing boys in Miles City. YPR News’ Kayla Desroches was in the federal courtroom during the sentencing hearing and shares her reporting with Nicky Ouellet.
Nicky Ouellet: James “Doc” Jensen was accused last year of coercing boys into sexual abuse under the guise of improving their althetic performance. It’s a thing that he called, “The Program.” He pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges of coercion and enticement. Kayla, can you describe what it was like in the courtroom?
Kayla Desroches: It was pretty small. There were about 25 people, not including the direct participants.
NO: Were any of the men who had accused him of this wrongdoing in the room?
KD: There were three of the victims who gave statements. So, the first person who spoke up, and they spoke upon the condition of anonymity. They only gave their initials. He talked about suicidal thoughts. He talked about dark days and struggling. And he did speak directly to Jensen after asking the judge’s permission. He called him “Doc.” He said he was sorry he had these urges and that he believes he‘ll find forgiveness in eternity, but he said that for the remaining time on earth he needs to be held accountable.
The second person who spoke also talked about suicidal thoughts. He said that he had PTSD. According to the lawyers, many of the men have PTSD to this day. And he said he felt like he had a life sentence as far as having to deal everyday with the aftereffects of the abuse.
NO: What did the defense attorneys have to say on Jensen’s behalf?
KD: They really stressed that he had pleaded guilty and that he wanted the most direct route forward to avoid any pain or further pain for the victims. He also pointed out that he has some health issues and he asked the judge to take that into consideration, which the judge later explained he legally had to.
NO: So the judge sentenced Jensen to twelve years in federal prison with 3 years supervised release. Did the victims feel like that was adequate? What did they say after the case?
Kayla D: I didn’t speak to the victims but I did speak to their attorneys:
“Of course, we’d like to see 15 or 50 or 100 years but knowing that he’s gonna be in federal custody until age 95, it’s a good thing,” Miles City-based attorney Dan Rice said. “It’s been a good day.”
NO: What happens next?
KD: So there are actually three cases that Jensen is connected to. There’s the federal case, which he was just sentenced to. Then there's the civil lawsuit, which is against Jensen but also against the Custer County High School, which includes the school district in that. That's projected to be held in court in March 2020. And he’s being sentenced on state charges of child pornography next month.
NO: Kayla, thanks so much for sharing your reporting.
KD: Thank you.