New Richmond man gets prison time in unusual sex crime case
Richard Zeier didn't consider it abuse when Catholic Church clergy molested him as a child and he didn't see anything criminal about three bizarre encounters he had later in life with a young boy.
Those beliefs were revealed Thursday at Zeier's sentencing hearing, where St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham reminded the New Richmond man that not only did his acts with a 5-year-old boy represent crimes, but some of the most severe under state law.
Zeier was convicted by a jury in September of three counts of first-degree child sexual assault. Only two crimes are classified as more severe in all of Wisconsin's criminal code — one of which is first-degree intentional homicide.
The saga, which involved three 2014 incidents of Zeier having a boy urinate into his mouth, "made our life hell," said the grandmother of the victim.
"Now I feel it's time for him to pay," she told the judge before the sentencing.
Needham fielded varying recommendations for the 70-year-old man's fate, from prison to probation. After weighing the criteria that steer sentencing outcomes in Wisconsin, Needham concluded that probation would detract from the seriousness of the offense and sentenced Zeier to three and-a-half years in prison.
The sentence calls for Zeier to spend another eight years on extended supervision and to be placed on the sex offender registry for life.
Prison was St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Ed Minser's recommendation, saying the "exceptionally serious" nature of the charges called for "eye-for-an-eye" justice.
"These are startling facts," the prosecutor said, describing Zeier's playtime in a pool with the boy and the purchasing of gifts for the child as attempts to "groom" him for abuse.
Defense attorney Aaron Nelson bristled at Minser's punitive approach to the case and evoked the names of Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as historical figures who all rejected the notion of an eye for an eye.
"I don't know if there is a statement I would oppose more than that statement," Nelson said, responding to Minser's assertion.
He said his client took no sexual gratification from the three incidents, which Nelson said led to impressions among pre-sentence investigators that Zeier hadn't shown remorse for his crimes.
"Other people have decided what his intent was," Nelson said, referring to the jury's verdict. "He can't get beyond that."
Rather, Nelson said Zeier suffers from mental illness and a feeling that he was being persecuted for his sexual orientation.
"Mr. Zeier is vulnerable for many, many, many reasons," Nelson said.
Needham took issue with statements Zeier made to investigators that sexual contact he had as a youth with clergy was consensual.
"You, arguably, didn't see it as wrong," the judge said. "It was. Plain and simple. End of discussion."
Minser said investigation revealed Zeier developed his urine fetish during sex acts with other men. That behavior crosses into criminal behavior, he said, when it begins to involve children.
"This is something that is going to stay with him for the rest of his life," Minser said of the boy, who he said "lost a little bit of that innocence of being a child."
Zeier admitted to performing the acts with the boy during his statement to the court, but maintained his position that it wasn't sexual in nature. Still, he said he's learned that it was wrong to do and that many were left upset by the revelations.
"I will never do them — anything like that — again," Zeier said.