FILLMORE — Keith Lorraine Gillins' fall from what his attorney called "the top of the food chain" ended Wednesday when he was sentenced to prison for having sex with one of his high-school students.
Defense attorney James Slavens noted that Gillins had served 12 years as Fillmore's mayor in the '80s and '90s, was a well-respected veteran educator, a state champion basketball coach and held local leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
All of that is gone now, Slavens told 4th District Judge Donald J. Eyre during a sometimes emotional 21/2-hour sentencing hearing held in a packed courtroom.
"That part of his life is completely over. That's a punishment he's received," Slavens said, arguing for a one-year jail term and probation.
"The sad thing about this case is that it's created enemies among friends," the attorney added.
Slavens implored the judge not to sentence Gillins, 61, based on "rumors, hysteria and prejudicial things" in the community.
What's not a rumor is that Gillins pleaded guilty in August to charges in Millard and Juab counties stemming from his sexual abuse of a now 18-year-old woman.
In Millard County, Gillins pleaded guilty to one count of attempted rape, a first-degree felony, and two counts of forcible sexual abuse, both second-degree felonies. In Juab County, he entered guilty pleas to one count of attempted rape and another of attempted forcible sodomy, both first-degree felonies.
Gillins had originally faced a total of 18 felony charges in the two counties.
According to Millard County sheriff's investigators, Gillins obtained the victim's cell-phone number in 2007 when she was 16 and began sending her text messages. At first, those messages offered encouragement and advice, authorities say, but over the course of several months, they took on a sexual tenor.
When she was 17, Gillins recruited the girl to be his teaching assistant, giving him "daily access" to her, detectives said. Eventually, he had sex with the girl on at least three occasions in his classroom and once at a motel in Nephi.
Prosecutors said Gillins used his sway over the victim to isolate her from her parents, family and friends, allowing him to more easily abuse the girl.
"She thought he was there to help her, to look out for her," said Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge. "He knew her strengths, and more importantly, he knew her weaknesses.
"It came to the point where the victim trusted Mr. Gillins more than anyone else in the world," Eldridge said, calling the abuse of trust "heinous" and "reprehensible."
The abuse came to light in June 2009, when members of Gillins' family became suspicious of his contact with the victim. Text messages were uncovered between the two, investigators say, and brought to the attention of the sheriff's office.
Prosecutors told the judge that even as she was questioned by police about the abuse, the victim made an attempt to reassure Gillins that she would protect him.
" 'I don't know. I did everything I could. They already knew,' " said Deputy Millard County Attorney Patrick Finlinson, reading a text message sent from the girl's phone to Gillins, apparently during a break in her interview with detectives.
The victim's father — his voice filled at times with barely restrained anger — told the judge that Gillins took advantage of his daughter's "kindness, her sweetness" for his own selfish reasons.
"He sought her out … he pursued her," the man said, adding later, "I don't respect he's been a bishop. I don't respect he was a mayor. He raped my daughter."
Before Eyre passed sentence, Gillins expressed sorrow for his crimes and the impact they have had on his victim, her family, his family and the community. He vowed that his victim would never hear from him or see him again. He also offered an apology to his colleagues at Millard High School and to educators around the state.
"My actions were wrong," Gillins said. "They were not conducive to what education is about."
Eyre ordered Gillins to serve three terms of 3 years-to-life in prison for the two attempted rape charges and the attempted forcible sodomy charge. Gillins was also ordered to spend 1-to-15 years behind bars for each of the forcible sex-abuse charges and pay restitution to his victim for any counseling costs.
The prison terms will all run concurrently.
After court, Eldridge called on the public not to be too quick to pass judgment on teenagers, especially those who are nearly 18, who make allegations of sexual abuse against teachers or others in positions of trust.
He said he's been approached by community members who questioned whether Gillins' victim shouldn't bear some responsibility for what happened; whether she wasn't the "aggressive" one.
"If she was, she was brought to that point by the defendant's behavior," Eldridge said, pointing to the months of "grooming" that took place before any sexual abuse occurred.
"He prepared her for that," the prosecutor added. "He brought her down the path and prepared her every step of the way to where she was the perfect victim."