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Former basketball coach sentenced to prison

Louis French

HUDSON — A former girls basketball coach accused of molesting a babysitter erupted into uncontrollable sobs Friday after a judge sentenced him to prison.

The 20-year sentence, issued by St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham, is five years longer than what was sought by prosecution for 43-year-old Louis J. French. The judge’s sentence calls for the Hudson man to spend 10 years in prison and 10 years on extended supervision.

St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Erica Ellenwood said she was glad Needham tacked on the extra five years of supervision — time that could also be spent in prison if he violates terms of his release.

“It just keeps keeps everybody safer,” she said.

Needham said the sentence was aggravated by the years of manipulation French inflicted on his victim.

“This was calculated, this was predatory, this was grooming,” the judge said. “This was escalating behavior.”

The sentence also calls for French to be placed on the sex offender registry for life.

French was charged in April 2017 with first-degree child sex assault, repeated sexual assault of a child, using a computer to facilitate a child-sex crime and causing a child to view sexual activity. He pleaded guilty in October to the computer-related charge, with the remaining counts dismissed in a plea agreement that included prosecution capping its sentencing request at 15 years.

Ellenwood said physical evidence against French was “not that strong.” Forensic download attempts were unsuccessful, she said.

Allegations against French, a former Hudson High School freshman girls basketball coach, came to light after a Hudson man discovered his daughter doing self-mutilation the night before she was to babysit for French. Asked why she was harming herself, she unfurled her two-year experience of sexual attention from French.

“We didn’t sign up for this and we don’t hide from it either,” the victim’s family said Friday in a prepared statement. “If your child is brave enough to tell you about being molested, please listen to them. We have a great community. Their support is helping our family start to heal from such an awful experience.”

French’s behavior, which began when the girl was a 10-year-old fifth grader, escalated to sexual contact, the girl reported. The girl and her parents then staged a Snapchat message to French, who replied with a photo of his genitalia.

Ellenwood said French later admitted in the pre-sentence investigation that he had recorded the girl showering.

“That monster took my family’s peace and innocence,” the victim’s father said in an impact statement.

The sentence capped an emotional hearing before a standing-room-only gallery.

Needham and both attorneys on the case took note of a report from French’s pre-sentence investigation interview with a Department of Corrections official. Ellenwood explained how the corrections officer noted French would “hold the victim accountable” for his actions.

“He said a 12-year-old girl is responsible for what I … did,” Ellenwood said in paraphrasing the passage.

Defense attorney Ryan Pacyga said he wasn’t surprised that French shifted the accountability during the interview. He said some offenders initially struggle with victim blaming.

“That’s part of what he needs to work on,” Pacyga said, describing French’s problems as “a disease.”

Ellenwood said supporters’ letters praising French as a man who took responsibility for his family rang hollow.

“What about the two years he was getting his jollies off for a 10- to 12-year-old girl?” the prosecutor said.

Needham referenced numerous letters of reproach and support for French. He said adjectives like “disgusting” and “depraved” were among those used by the writers.

“I’ll add ‘vile,’ I’ll add ‘immoral,’” the judge said.

During his time to speak at the hearing, French choked back sobs while apologizing to the victim and her family.

“All of this is 100 percent my fault. I can’t believe I did this,” he said. “You trusted me and I let you down.”

In its statement, the family urged victims and advocates to report crimes to police and to utilize resources like River Falls-based TurningPoint for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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