HAMMOND -- A federal judge gave former Baptist school Principal William A. "Andy" Beith a 15-year sentence Wednesday and a lesson in what is not love.
"You cannot be mutually infatuated with an 11-year-old," U.S. District Court Judge Rudy Lozano told the 31-year-old Burns Harbor man.
Beith pleaded guilty last year to crossing state lines with the intent of having sex with an 11-year-old who was a sixth-grade student at his Lake Station religious school.
"I'm sorry for my actions," Beith said in addressing the court and a group of his friends and family. "I'd like to apologize to the victim, the victim's family for putting them through this. I'm sorry for my parents and what I put them through."
Beith's mother, Rhonda, wept through the hearing.
"He's our son, and we love him," she said while walking from the courthouse afterward. The victim's parents watched the hearing outside the courtroom through an electronic link to avoid Beith's supporters and the press, Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane L. Berkowitz said.
One woman who identified herself as a friend of the Beiths and a parent who had sent her five children to their church school, said, "The sentence was unfair. He is not a monster."
Beith was principal of Liberty Baptist Academy, 2075 Rush Place in Lake Station, when he became attracted to the girl, who attended there as a student from third to sixth grade. Prosecutors said they went together on a school-sponsored camping trip near Monroe, Mich., where they had sexual intercourse April 25, 2001.
A crisis erupted the following week when the girl's parents learned of the relationship. Beith told Lozano last year, "I made arrangements for her to run away." He picked her up in an SUV outside a fast-food restaurant in Portage on May 1, 2001, and fled first to Michigan, then south to Tennessee and west to Texas, where they had unprotected sex on several occasions, according to records. They were the subject of an FBI nationwide manhunt and finally were arrested May 7, 2001, outside a Las Vegas motel.
The sentencing was delayed 11 months while government prosecutors and defense lawyers fought about whether the crime was an abduction of an emotionally vulnerable child or the consensual act of a young temptress.
Lozano on Wednesday gave Beith the maximum sentence he could receive under a plea agreement hammered out by the parties and came down hard on the side of Beith's complete responsibility.
"I don't enjoy having you in jail, but I have to decide what would be a fair sentence. If you had been sentenced under the original indictment, you would have been facing much higher penalties. You also may have faced prosecution in other states and maybe faced larger penalties there, too," Lozano said.
The judge said he thought the range of sentences Beith faced under the plea bargain -- 12 years and seven months to 15 years -- was too low.
Nevertheless, he deferred his judgment to that of the U.S. attorney's office, which wanted to avoid putting the victim through the trauma of being questioned in open court before a jury.
Lozano said he was troubled by Beith.
"You did at times apologize and at times you blamed the victim. You are the adult. She was a child. She did not consent," Lozano said.
"Daily, numerous parents sent their most precious treasures to you, their children. You attacked and damaged one the most vulnerable."
He viewed a video tape Beith made of the girl before they fled the state. He said Beith asked the girl to dance for him, confided to her that he was not a virgin and failed to discourage her when she expressed an interest in having sex. "I found the video most revealing," Lozano said.
The judge said Beith's strict upbringing may have been a factor in his sexually deviancy and that the girl was particularly vulnerable because she told Beith she had been fondled by her father. The judge said that accusation was never proven as true. It never resulted in a criminal charge.
Merrillville defense lawyer Nick Thiros expressed bitter disappointment at the judge's refusal to give Beith a lighter sentence.
"I think Mr. Beith is being treated unfairly," Thiros said.
He said the most severe factor in Beith's punishment was that the girl was younger than 12, although she was only two weeks short of being that age when the incident took place.
"The fact remains this lady was very sophisticated, more sophisticated at the age of 11 than this man was at the age of 27. This 27-year-old man fell in love with that child," Thiros said.
The girl initially told federal investigators that Beith didn't force her to do anything, but she told a probation officer doing a presentence investigation last year that she now believes their relationship was an act of lust, not love, Thiros said.
Lozano was unmoved by defense arguments. He said Beith seduced the girl by giving her inordinate attention, more attention one school employee said than any other female student. The judge said Beith intimidated the girl by threatening to commit suicide if she left him.
U.S. Attorney Joseph Van Bokkelen said afterward, "I thought it was a fair sentence."
Berkowitz said the victim's parents -- who had complained last year the plea bargain was too lenient -- felt satisfied with the sentence afterward.
Lozano said he will ask the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to direct Beith to a program to treat sexual offenders. Sentencing guidelines would make Beith eligible for parole in less than 11 years.
Bill Dolan can be reached at email@example.com or (219) 662-5328.