The Campbell County Circuit Court prosecuted its first case of digital rape since a statute in 2018 changed the definition to include penetration of any body part.
Last month’s trial addressed the digital, or finger, rape of a victim under 12.
Justin Wischer was convicted of rape in the first degree and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
According to Chief Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Zimmerman, who worked as a prosecutor on the case, the definition of sexual intercourse was changed by law under the rape statute in 2018 to include penetration of any body part, not just a sex organ.
This case was the first jury trial the court has had since that change in 2018.
The incident occurred in September 2021 and was tried by a jury in December 2022. The final sentencing was in February.
The jury found Wischer guilty and made a recommendation to the judge for a 20-year sentence. During formal sentencing, Circuit Court Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward followed the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Wischer to 20 years. Zimmerman said the judge most often follows the jury’s recommendation.
Zimmerman said this is one of the quicker jury trial turnarounds he has seen, adding that these cases can go on for years.
“The hero, in this case, is this little girl,” Zimmerman said. “She not only had the courage to report this immediately but then see it through to the end, which can be an incredibly arduous process because she’s interviewed multiple times and then has to come into a courtroom full of strangers and talk about the most traumatic experience of her life.”
Wischer must also register as a sex offender and has a restraining order and interpersonal protective order placed against him.
When Wischer is released, he will have to be on the sex offender registry for life, Zimmerman said. That includes limitations such as where you he live, like a certain distance from a school or park where children are likely to congregate, and other restrictions.
The interpersonal protective order prevents any contact either directly or through intermediaries by Wischer with the victim. The interpersonal protective order functions similarly to a restraining order but happens post-conviction. Zimmerman said they decided it was appropriate in this situation because the orders often occur in cases where there could be potential contact post-conviction.
Under Kentucky law, rape in the first degree is an 85% parole eligibility offense, meaning Wischer must serve 85% of his 20-year sentence before he would be eligible for parole. Zimmerman said that does not guarantee his release, as he would have to appear before the parole board.
What could this mean for future cases in Campbell County?
Zimmerman said it is helpful anytime they get a jury verdict on a case like this.
“What it does is it allows us in future cases, particularly in when we engage in plea negotiations, to talk to defense attorneys, then we can point to a case that we’ve tried that a jury has heard and sat down and looked at with similar evidence and said, ‘this person is guilty of that,'” Zimmerman said. “And that helps facilitate investigations, helps facilitate plea bargains, and it helps facilitate prosecuting needs in a much more efficient way.”
Zimmerman said it also helps prosecutors gauge how the community feels about cases involving children like this.
“I think jurors in Campbell County are going to react exactly the way this jury did, which is you’re going to prison for a very long time if you offend our children,” Zimmerman said.