ELDORA — For the past few months, Kasey Hilpipre has been trying to make sense of how a 61-year-old man originally charged with two counts of felony second-degree sex abuse will likely avoid prison time.
That man, Dean Hilpipre, allegedly assaulted Kasey’s then-6-year-old daughter in November 2016.
Now, after a Hardin County investigation involving multiple prosecutors and the Department of Human Services, a guilty plea to a lesser charge — lascivious acts with a child — has been reached.
The plea deal recommends probation, Hilpipre registering on the state’s sex offender registry and a five year no-contact order with his now 7-year-old granddaughter — but no prison sentence.
Conviction of one count of second-degree sex abuse can carry sentence of up to 25 years in prison, while conviction of lascivious acts with a child can carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Kasey, a Clear Lake native, called the case “a huge mess” and was upset when a plea agreement was reached in December.
According to court documents, Dr. Tracy Thomas performed a pyscho-sexual evaluation of Hilpipre, which ultimately determined there was a “very low risk” he would re-offend: .9 percent over the next five years.
Kasey, however, doesn’t see it that way.
“I believe once a pedophile, always a pedophile, as far as history goes,” she said. “It’s a really messed up system here in Iowa for sexual abusers. … It’s very difficult to figure out what they’re going to do with the case.”
If it wasn’t for another of Kasey’s daughters, now 13, reporting the abuse to a school counselor in the summer of 2016, the abuse could have continued. A few months after that initial report, Kasey said her ex-husband Dale — who lives three blocks from Hilpipre in Alden — got a knock on his door from deputies in the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office, helping kick off the investigation.
She said some of those deputies — including Jeff Brenneman, one of the lead investigators in the case — were extremely upset when they learned about the plea deal.
She said she heard the following from Brenneman and other investigators: “I’m not allowed to file charges unless they (prosecutors) know they’re going to stick. ... I wouldn’t have charged him (Hilpipre) unless I was 100 percent certain.”
Hardin County Sheriff Dave McDaniel said last week some of his deputies would have testified had Hilpipre stood trial.
“I don’t know entirely where they come to their conclusions,” he said of the plea deal. “But I was confident in our investigation, and I think we had a solid case to get a conviction.”
Kasey believes the reason the case did not go to trial was because prosecutors wanted her daughter to testify. Her ex-husband and prosecutors deemed the best way forward was a plea agreement.
She disagreed, even knowing the emotional toll it would take on her daughter, especially through cross-examination.
“Let’s go ahead and weigh the days she would deal with the anguish, versus the maybe hours she would spend on the stand,” she said.
Bob Riggs, a law professor at Drake University with expertise in criminal law, said prosecutors may be discouraged from putting children who have been victimized on the witness stand. He emphasized, however, circumstances differ from case to case.
“If you have a willing victim that’s willing to testify … it depends on what they say and how they say it,” Riggs said. “It certainly exposes them to cross-examination, which could expose certain weaknesses in the case.”
Further complicating the case, Hilpipre won $100,000 from a scratch-off lottery ticket last month. Kasey said it’s disgusting Hilpipre can keep the winnings given the charges against him.
A person’s criminal history does not disqualify them from claiming a prize, according to lottery officials, but the prize may be subject to garnishment for child support, court fees and back taxes.
Kasey, who has joint custody of her daughter, said she is doing her best to support her. She called her a strong girl for coming forward about what happened in 2016.
Three victim impact statements will read during Hilpipre’s sentencing at the Hardin County Courthouse 10 a.m. Friday, Kasey said: one from her, one from her mother and a joint statement from both her daughters that Kasey will read.
Kasey called on everyone advocating for change in child sex abuse cases to show up in hopes of getting a harsher sentence than recommended in the plea agreement.
“I think that what we need to do is rally behind each other,” Kasey said. “Iowa needs to step up — if the court system is failing — and say this is not right … children are going unprotected every day.”