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MADISON - The Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence of Lawrence Payette on child enticement and soliciting a child for prostitution, in a decision announced today.
Lawrence Payette was charged in Milwaukee County with 22 violations of the statutes prohibiting child enticement and soliciting a child for prostitution. Payette had used his own apartment and a number of motel rooms to trade sex for crack with several teen-age girls. One victim was in a coma for ten days after Payette left her in a mall parking lot when she collapsed from a cocaine overdose. Years later, the girl has yet to recover completely from her ordeal.
In a negotiated plea agreement, the State agreed to dismiss 17 of the counts against Payette in return for Payette's pleas of guilty to the remaining four charges. The circuit court accepted Payette's pleas and sentenced him to eighty years in prison.
"I'm very pleased with the decision of the Court of Appeals in this case," Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said. "Child maltreatment is inexcusable. Investigation and prosecution of cases involving those who prey on children are a high priority of the Department of Justice."
After sentencing Payette moved to withdraw his guilty pleas on the legal ground that they lacked a sufficient factual basis. Payette argued that there was no factual basis for charging him with soliciting or causing a child to practice prostitution. The court of appeals concluded that the habitual nature of Payette's trading cocaine for sex with one girl over thirty times satisfied the requirement that she did practice prostitution with Payette. The court further concluded that Payette caused her to do so, and that he also caused his other victims to enter a room or secluded place in order to give them cocaine. The causation requirement was satisfied because Payette's behavior was a substantial factor in the actions taken by the victims.
Payette received the maximum sentence. He sought resentencing on the basis of sentencing hearing evidence that two of the victims had been threatened. Although their source was unknown, the State inferred that Payette authorized the threats. The sentencing court did not explicitly rely on the evidence. The court of appeals held that such reliance would not have been erroneous because the State's inference that Payette was behind the threats was reasonable. Furthermore, even if reliance on the threat evidence had been erroneous, any error was harmless, because the evidence of Payette's crimes against these victims and his character and criminal history abundantly supported the maximum sentence imposed.
Payette also challenged his sentence because he was prohibited by the court from looking at one of the victims during her sentencing testimony. Payette argued that this prohibition deprived him of his right to be present at sentencing. The court of appeals disagreed, noting that Payette remained in the courtroom throughout the sentencing process, and was fully able to consult with trial counsel and participate in the proceedings. The court also concluded that the prohibition did not violate Payette's Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him because that right does not apply to sentencing proceedings.
The State of Wisconsin was represented by Assistant Attorney General Maura Whelan.