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Saturday, April 15, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Former youth ministry director sentenced

Roelke to spend 3 years in prison for child sex crimes

In a charged hearing, Russell Roelke, a 45-year-old former West Bend youth ministry director originally charged with four counts of child sex crimes, was sentenced Monday to a 14-year prison term by Washington County Circuit Judge Annette Ziegler.

Under sentencing guidelines, Roelke will serve three years in the state prison system and the remainder under extended supervision.

After the sentence was passed, with audible moans emanating from the large contingent of his supporters, Roelke’s mother collapsed inside the courtroom and was attended to by West Bend paramedics. She was able to walk out of the courtroom later with assistance.

Roelke had earlier entered guilty pleas to two counts, one of use of a computer to facilitate a sex crime and one of possession of child pornography. A former youth ministry director at Fifth Avenue Methodist Church in West Bend, Roelke had also been charged with child enticement and exposing a child to harmful material, but Washington County Assistant District Attorney Holly Bunch had agreed to dismiss those charges as part of a plea agreement.

Roelke was supposed to be sentenced in February, but his attorney, Gerald Boyle, said a computer disk containing alleged pornographic images downloaded from Roelke’s computer had just been made available to him. He said he needed to examine the disk to see how it may impact the sentencing. Bunch said she too had just received the evidence and did not object to the delay.

According to the criminal complaint, Roelke made contact with a Keene, N.H. detective assigned to the Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Task Force who posed online as a 14-year-old boy.

Numerous online chats followed, the complaint stated, and "became very sexually graphic in nature." Roelke also "sent a link" to the detective that contained more than 400 images of child pornography.

Armed with this information, the West Bend Police Department obtained a search warrant and seized Roelke’s home computer, computer storage files and related items.

Following the search, Roelke told West Bend Police Det. Tim Dehring that he had become involved in "fantasy role playing" concerning sexual relationships between teenage boys and adult men.

Roelke had been a Scout leader from 1999-2003, according to court records, and, at the time of his arrest, was a Big Brother to an area boy whose age was not disclosed.

Prior to Monday’s sentencing, four people - including Roelke’s father and a lay pastor at his present church - urged Ziegler to show compassion. Roelke’s sister, a lieutenant in the Oshkosh Police Department, submitted a taped message that Boyle played. The sister is out of state on a work-related assignment.

"He is a kind and gentle person," she said on tape. "Even when we were kids, when I egged him on, he never did anything," she said.

She asked Ziegler to show compassion and sentence him to probation.

During closing arguments, Bunch debunked Roelke’s claim that he was engaged in fantasy role playing to help him understand his own molestation he claimed happened when he was younger.

"This was done for his sexual satisfaction, not as part of an extended fantasy," she said.

Bunch - along with a presentence report writer - both recommended three-year prison terms and a period of extended supervision.

Boyle said Roelke, who has no prior criminal record, was just an example of the wrong direction society is taking on the moral compass.

"We have a breakdown in society," he said, noting that it was impossible to go to a movie today and not get flooded with sexual messages.

The Internet, he said, is the prime culprit for the breakdown, he said, affording people easy access to previously unimaginable images and information.

"It’s that severe sickness in society," he said.

He also said there was no victim in the offenses with which Roelke was charged.

Ziegler, who said she was originally leaning toward a stiffer sentence, said while there was no sexual molestation, that was not the crime Roelke confessed to.

"These are charges of using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime and possession of child pornography," she said.

"It’s not their (his family and supporters in court) fault you’re sitting in that chair," she said.

Roelke could have faced a maximum prison sentence of 28 years and more than $100,000 in fines.