With snow falling on a gray-skied Monday outside of the Grant County Courthouse, a packed courtroom of family and what Aaron Bouzek of Lancaster once considered friends sat for three-and-one-half hours as he was sentenced to 48 years in prison for numerous acts of sexual assault of children as well as possessing and making thousands of child pornographic materials over the course of nearly a decade.
During his sentencing, Judge Craig Day said that he noted that a family member of Bouzek noted how the mandatory minimums on the child pornography charges were greater than what someone may get for murder, and the person wondered why. Reflecting on that question, Day stated that what Bouzek has done is similar to a serial killer, claiming many victims, and their families, over the course of several years. “These acts are cold, over the span of years,” Day said. “It’s done out of pleasure.”
“It is outside the societal norm by a wide margin,” Day continued, stating that such abuses of children is something the public just cannot understand, compared to what might drive someone to take another person’s life.
During the sentencing, it was brought up that Bouzek’s repeated abuses nearly came to light in 2008, when a domestic issue was reported, and counseling for the family was called for. Day reflected that Bouzek took that near-miss, and then his conduct became even more pervasive. “Anyone you had the ability to use for your pleasure, you did,” Day said to Bouzek.
For the previous three hours, those in the courtroom were given full witness to the extent of Bouzek’s acts over the course of the past decade, how he used opportunities when he was left with children to abuse them, how he made videos of such abuse, and how he unsuspectedly would also record or photograph youth, setting up remote cameras.
Most of those in court were friends and family of Bouzek, some there to support him and hope he received the help he needs, while others - with a sense of betrayal of the trust they gave him - wanted to make sure all children were protected by making sure he never left incarceration.
A parent of one of his victims said that in the early days of when Bouzek was accused, they didn’t believe the investigators, even helped get him out on bail. When it became obvious it was all true, it destroyed their family, and this parent worries it will haunt their children for the rest of their lives.
“We have a life sentence for his actions,” that parent told the court.
Another former friend described a letter that Bouzek had sent them to try and explain his actions. The letter gave a peek into Bouzek’s mindset, feeling that children of any age should be allowed to explore their sexuality, and that people should be able to help in any way. The letter referenced him covertly making a video of a child running around without a diaper on and how Bouzek was capturing a moment where the child was free of “self shame endemic” of a culture.
“He has no remorse for what he has done to me or my family,” the parent said.
His defense tried to argue that with therapy and time, Bouzek’s risk to reoffend would be greatly reduced. Dr. William Merrick, who works for the state as an evaluator on criminal cases, told the court that Bouzek was in the low range of reoffending, as he did not have attributes of being a psychopath or having a criminal mindset. He was a pedophile.
“Once they get caught, they stop,” Merrick stated, relating it to drunk drivers.
When questioned that pedophilia is a life-long illness, and those desires never go away, Merrick responded “even though you have the condition, you don’t act on it.”
State Asst. Attorney General Karie Cattanach told the court that while ultimately forthcoming, in the early days of the investigation, Bouzek attempted to hide his pornographic materials, fabricating a text message from work to go to his computer and encrypt files while being questioned. He deleted files as well.
Some 25,000 images, and 300 videos were found on one hard drive, images with titles like ‘kindergarten sex.’
Cattanach also told about how Bouzek looked for opportunities, even returning to an assaultt after he had been temporarily interrupted by another adult.
Cattanach had asked for Bouzek to be placed in prison for 120 years.
“Aaron is a pedophile, he struggles with it,” Bouzek’s attorney, Jessa Nicholson, told the court. She tried to paint a picture of a man who did not connect with people growing up, and one who fully cooperated with investigators, later giving the password for the encrypted files.
Speaking on his behalf, Bouzek said that he failed on most relationships growing up, and became insulated as a result. He got into porn as a teenager, and it became an addiction. “The more I downloaded it, the more it seemed ok.”
He said it did not hit until he was being interrogated what a mistake he made, and that he would judge himself harshly on facts of the case, but that he believes people should have a second chance.
Day told Bouzek that all the good he has done and possibly could do became inconsequential because of his actions “and the pains they send out to society.”
With a minimum of 25 years already on the table, Day ordered charges involving the same victims to run concurrent - or at the same time - while those charges for different victims would run consecutive - -or one after another. Day gave the 33-year-old Bouzek 48 years in prison.
“Forty-eight years is nearly the rest of Mr. Bouzek’s life,” Day told the courtroom.
Day also ruled that Bouzek was not to have any contact with any of his victims, either directly or through a third party. When asked if Bouzek could see victims as part of therapy for them dealing with what he did, Day said if they felt it was best at a later time, those young victims could request the court to do so, but at the moment it may be best if they attempt to try and forget him as much as they possibly can.