(WARNING: This article includes mentions and descriptions of sexual assault, specifically childhood sexual abuse. Please use caution when deciding to read, as the content may be troubling to some readers.)
Family members of both a victim and the perpetrator shed tears in the courtroom Monday as a Columbia man was sentenced in Monroe County to 160 years in prison on four counts of predatory sexual assault of a child.
Under the sentence imposed by Judge Dominic Kujawa, Douglas “Brad” Hicks must serve 40 years of each count consecutively, with 85 percent of the sentence to be served. While three years of supervised release is included in this sentence, Hicks, nearly 57, is unlikely to be released during his lifetime.
“I’m very pleased with the judge’s sentencing. Justice was served – he won’t get out of prison,” said Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer, who prosecuted the case.
Per Illinois statute, those convicted of predatory criminal sex assault may face six to 60 years in prison. As Hicks previously pled guilty to four counts (victim under 13), he faced a minimum of 24 years imprisonment and a maximum of 240 years.
Defense attorney Arthur Morris argued for the minimum sentence, saying his client showed remorse as he attempted suicide in jail, did not have a prior criminal history, faced sexual abuse as a child himself and more.
Liefer argued Kujawa should impose “an exact life sentence” of 50 years on each count.
Liefer told the court the only reason he did not ask for the maximum sentence was because Hicks entered a guilty plea in May 2021, therefore “saving 12 people and two alternates from having to look at what we were looking at,” referring to video and photo evidence Kujawa viewed in chambers.
Hicks was initially charged in November 2019 with multiple allegations of sex crimes and child pornography. In total, he faced 60 felony counts, but all were dismissed except the four counts of predatory sexual assault (victim under 13) to which he pleaded guilty.
The initial charges included moving depiction (videotaping), reproducing such materials and additional accounts of predatory criminal sexual assault of (a) victim(s) under 13.
Testimony from Columbia Police Department Sgt. Michael Barnett revealed the investigation found Hicks had four juvenile victims with ages ranging from approximately 5-12 years of age at the time of his arrest. Due to the four victims’ relationships with his family, Hicks had “direct access” to the children.
Evidence was presented that one victim was sexually assaulted and received medical treatment after Hicks was arrested – although Barnett said during cross examination he could not say the exact nature of the treatment.
One search warrant found videos, which Hicks appeared to have produced, of all four victims. Many other images and videos of child pornography that Hicks did not appear to produce were also found.
Additionally, Barnett said Hicks sent two of the victims letters and postcards from jail, some of which requested pictures and responses.
Kujawa also heard from two other witnesses, clinical psychologist Dr. Daniel Cuneo and a social worker at one of the victim’s school.
Cuneo conducted a sex offender assessment of Hicks this past September. Cuneo testified he believed Hicks would re-offend if given the chance and said Hicks fits the criteria for a pedophilia disorder with a preference for females.
Morris called into question the idea Hicks would consistently be at a high risk of reoffending, as he suggested the chances may lessen as Hicks ages and other such factors. Cuneo acknowledged that while aging might lessen the chances of Morris offending, he said he still “would not treat anybody with (that) high (of) risk” in an outpatient setting.
The environment must be controlled, Cuneo said.
Morris asked the doctor how much time he spent evaluating his client. Cuneo answered 2-2.5 hours, yet, in answering a question later posed by Liefer, he used this time along with hours of reviewing case files to make his conclusions.
The last witness Liefer called was a social worker for the school that one of the victims attended. As the witness said, the investigation started with a school safety lesson that discussed “no touch swimsuit parts” and other similar concepts. The child told the social worker that somebody had touched her, at which point she notified the Department of Children and Family Services, the social worker testified.
She said after the child told her of the abuse, “she changed a little bit.” She said the once outgoing child is now more reserved and struggles with academics. The child has sought counseling outside of school, she said.
The social worker also said that in working with other child victims, she knows memories of their abuse tend to “flare up” over time.
During cross examination, Morris questioned if the social worker had the proper qualifications to do so. She said her social work education has taught her how to work with children who have been sexually abused.
The mother and grandmother of the victim who was sexually assaulted gave victim impact statements during sentencing. As her grandmother said, counselors have told the family aspects of the abuse will “rush back” as the child reaches certain milestones, such as discovering attraction. Her mother said the child now suffers from separation anxiety and is hesitant to show affection.
This abuse started when her daughter was 14 months old, the mother said.
At one point during her statement, the grandmother locked eyes with Hicks in the courtroom.
“He had choices. He gave my granddaughter no choices,” she stated.
With these addresses bringing another wave of tears over the gallery, Liefer presented his sentencing recommendation and argument. He outlined what he believed to be three aggravating factors in the case: physical harm, the sentence should act as a strong deterrent, and Hicks violated a position of trust with victims and their families.
Morris too felt there were factors the judge should strongly consider. These, he said, were that Hicks did not have a criminal history before his arrest and Hicks himself was sexually abused as a child. Once again, he reiterated Hicks’ “high risk of re-offending” can change as he ages.
He pointed to Hicks’ suicide attempt while in jail as a sign of remorse.
Given all the facts, Morris said, “it cries for the minimum.”
Hicks himself was the last to address Kujawa in the courtroom, yet he directed parts of his statement to the gallery, speaking quietly. Hicks said he does not want to live with himself given how much harm he caused and proceeded to list the extended network of those he’s hurt.
“It’s incomprehensible how many lives I’ve touched,” Hicks said.
Hicks said he had an interest in child porn for 30 years. He said he “allowed it to get the best of (him),” breaking his calm demeanor to wipe tears from his eyes.
Hicks frequently cited the Bible and its themes of forgiveness, concluding, “except a couple of things I’ve heard today, I own my sins.”
After a recess while Kujawa viewed the state’s first exhibit, one video and two images, he declared court back in session.
“What I had to hear today was reprehensible to me,” Kujawa stated, prefacing his background includes many types of court cases.
He touched on both Liefer’s and Morris’ arguments. To Kujawa, the fact Hicks did not have a criminal history prior to these charges was frightening – and so was his long-standing knowledge of his problem.
The judge also said Hicks being sexually abused as a child was a factor in mitigation, yet, he said, so was Hicks not breaking the cycle of abuse.
For the first time Monday, Kujawa’s voice grew louder as he addressed Hicks about the lasting harm on the victim whose relatives the court heard from.
“This court will not tolerate the acts you committed on that child,” he told Hicks before announcing the 160-year prison sentence.
In criminal court, sentencing often represents an end to the case. Yet, as discussed in court, four brave young girls know this story is far from over.
“Mentally, (the victims) have been subjected to a life sentence,” Liefer said to the judge.