TRAVERSE CITY — Lexi Witkop told a full courtroom Friday that Brendan Kelly stole her “happiness and my well-being,” without even knowing her.
“I didn’t know you,” Witkop read from her victim’s impact statement during Kelley’s sentencing on two counts of criminal sexual conduct.
“I still don’t know you. But we’re here today because of what you did.”
Kelly, 22, of Frankfort, had pleaded not guilty.
He was arrested April 17 and convicted Sept. 12, following a two-day jury trial.
After some back and forth between Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg and Kelly’s defense attorney, Dena Horvath, regarding sentencing guidelines, Circuit Court judge Kevin Elsenheimer sentenced Kelly to two terms of 65 to 180 months, to be served concurrently.
“This is the rarest of situations,” Elsenheimer said, before announcing the sentence.
“He has no criminal history whatsoever” yet the judge also said the crime involved a “horrendous set of circumstances.”
Kelly asked the judge for “leniency and grace,” and Elsenheimer said he’d received 24 letters from members of Kelly’s family and his friends, in support of his character.
“For whatever reason, and it is still not clear to me even after the trial, you made this decision. It frankly does not make any sense. This is a crime not only against the victim, but also against the community.”
At trial Witkop testified on March 8, just after 7 a.m. she was asleep in her apartment off LaFranier Rd. when she woke up, face down on her bed, with a man lying on top of her, pinning her down and raping her.
When she’d gone to bed several hours earlier, three people including Kelly were socializing in Witkop’s living room.
Witkop said she felt afraid and “blank” when she woke up and realized what was happening. She left her apartment, drove to Serra, the car dealership on Garfield Ave. where she worked as an appointment scheduler, and a manager took her to Munson’s ER.
A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner completed a rape kit, which was admitted into evidence during trial. A series of text messages from Kelly to a friend confirming the timing of the assault were also used by the prosecutor, and helped convict Kelly, Elsenheimer said.
“There’s a school of thought that says texting is a window to the soul,” Elsenheimer said. “Those texts are the best indication we have of what your intent was.”
Witkop stood next to Moenggenberg at a center podium and read her seven-page impact statement aloud.
She included details of the crime and evidence collection process, such as having to buy a new comforter after all her bedding was collected by police as evidence.
Kelly, who had many friends and family members present, also spoke to the court.
He said he’d been arrested and found guilty of a crime, “I still do not admit I committed,” and then apologized to Witkop for any “unintentional harm” he’d caused, saying that was “weighing extremely heavy on my heart. I severely misjudged the situation.”
“As much as I wish I could change things, I cannot.”
Kelly was remanded to the custody of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s department, and will soon be evaluated by the Michigan Department of Corrections for placement.
Horvath told the judge her client was “naive” but “not a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“I continue to believe in the right to trial by jury and in the justice system,” Horvath said, in a phone interview. “He (Kelly) did have a lot of support in the courtroom today. No one wins in a case like this. Hopefully both individuals can move on from here.”
Hours after sentencing, Witkop, reached by phone, said she was spending time with her father.
“It took so long to get to this day,” Witkop said. “Now it’s over and I don’t have to deal with the court on this anymore. I don’t have to deal with any of that and its healing. Or, starting to be.”