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VALPARAISO — Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper said her heart goes out to a young girl seated at the rear of the courtroom on Wednesday, after the years of sexual abuse the girl endured at the hands of 53-year-old Joseph Donfrio.

"I'm sorry you had to go through what you went through," she said.

But the judge assured the girl, "You have a good solid future ahead of you."

Donfrio was then sentenced by Harper to 30 years behind bars, which was the maximum allowed per the conditions of the plea agreement in the child molesting case.

"I'm giving you 30 years because I can't give you 50 years," Harper said.

The girl reportedly told police Donfrio began touching her inappropriately when she was in fifth grade. She said the abuse evolved into sexual intercourse and continued into her seventh-grade year, with the bulk of it occurring between her fifth- and sixth-grade years, police said.

The girl said she questioned Donfrio about the abuse being wrong and he responded "that it was OK if you loved the other person," police said.

Donfrio apologized to the girl during Wednesday's sentencing hearing.

"The responsibility of my criminal conduct is mine," he said.

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He asked for probation in order to be able to work to pay restitution to his young victim.

Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Mary Ryan said while Donfrio had no prior criminal offenses, she does not believe he all of a sudden thought it a good idea to have sex with an underage girl.

"He's still thinking of this as an isolated incident," she said.

Defense attorney Mark Chargualaf argued for a 20-year sentence, saying that Donfrio opted to plead guilty after asking whether the victim would have to testify if the case went to trial.

"He chose to spare her that pain and trauma," he said.

Ryan countered the claim by saying Donfrio took the plea agreement knowing that prosecutors had a copy of a letter he wrote admitting to the crime. That agreement reduced the potential maximum sentence by 10 years.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.