VALPARAISO — A 51-year-old Wheeler man, accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a girl starting when she was in fifth grade, wrote a letter apologizing and equating himself to a child, according to police.

"Joseph (Donfrio) wrote that he felt as if he was a child who had been locked away with a terrible secret and nobody to tell," police said.

"Joseph also wrote, 'I am sorry for the torment I have caused her,' " according to charging documents.

Donfrio is charged with a single felony count of child molesting and faces a potential sentence of 20 to 40 years behind bars.

The girl, who is now in seventh grade, reportedly told police that 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.

She believed the incidents decreased as she became more active at school and with friends, police said.

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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.

She estimated that Donfrio sexually abused her approximately 25 times over the last two years, according to charging information.

Donfrio reportedly asked in writing for forgiveness, police said.

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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.