GREENFIELD — A man found guilty of having an inappropriate relationship with a local teen will spend a decade in prison as a result of his actions, a judge ruled Thursday.
Paul Price, 31, of Muncie was found guilty last month of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a girl half his age. He was convicted following a bench trial before interim Hancock Circuit Court judge, Jeffery Eggers.
Eggers, who was appointed to the bench earlier this year after the retirement of Judge Richard Culver, found Price was guilty of three felony counts of sexual misconduct with a minor; but not guilty of felony criminal confinement and sexual battery, which he also faced.
Eggers ruled that Price was guilty of two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor as a Level 4 felony and one count of sexual misconduct with a minor as a Level 5 felony. He was acquitted, however, of one count of criminal confinement as a Level 6 felony and one count of sexual battery as a Level 6 felony.
Thursday, Price returned to Hancock Circuit Court for a sentencing hearing, during which his attorney asked the judge to show Price leniency while prosecutors argued the man needed to be sent to prison.
After hearing lengthy arguments from both sides, Eggers sentenced Price to serve 10 years in an Indiana Department of Correction facility followed by three years on probation. He’ll be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years upon his release from prison.
The judge heard about four hours of testimony during a bench trial in October that included statements from the victim and Price.
They each accused the other of being untruthful, according to testimony.
The victim described several instances when Price gave her alcohol before touching or engaging in sex acts with her. She admitted she felt the relationship was consensual when it began; but her feelings about Price eventually changed.
The teen testified that at the end of the relationship, Price held her down against her will and fondled her, according to testimony.
Each instance took place in Fountaintown, where Price formerly lived, the victim testified.
But Price denies the teen’s allegations and believes she fabricated the story, drawing on the already strained relationship Price had with her family.
Speaking Thursday during Price’s sentencing hearing, Deputy Prosecutor Cathy Wilson, who presented the state’s case against Price, said the defendant had every right to maintain his innocence.
But his unwillingness to show remorse for his actions is concerning and should be factored into the strictness of the man’s sentence, Wilson said.
Citing testimony given by the victim at trial, Wilson argued that Price knew his relationship with the teen was wrong, but he did it anyway.
The victim told the judge during trial that Price once said to her, “You’re family is going to hate me,” Wilson said. Yet, Price proceeded and even advanced the relationship with the teen, Wilson said.
John Merlau of New Palestine, who represented Price in the case, told the judge Price has no criminal history. He has a well-paying job that he planned to keep if the judge allowed him to serve his sentence on home detention or probation rather than behind bars.
Eggers told Price he doesn’t believe he is a violent predator, and he thinks it was unlikely that Price would commit the crimes again. But there is on way to know right now what damage the relationship caused the teen involved, and for that, Price needs to be punished, Eggers said as he handed down his sentence.
“That can only be determined years from now,” Egger said.