‘Love letters’ land Dowagiac man in prison

Published 9:23 am Monday, April 20, 2015

A Dowagiac man’s string of love letters and sexually-explicit photographs to a teenager 50 years his junior has earned him a nearly two-year stay in a Michigan prison cell.

Leroy Irving Cheney

Leroy Irving Cheney

Cass County Circuit Judge Michael Dodge sentenced Leroy Irving Cheney, 65, to a minimum term of 23 months in prison to a maximum term of seven years during his sentencing hearing Thursday morning in Cassopolis.

Cheney previously appeared in court on March 16, when he pleaded guilty to two counts of using a computer to commit a crime and one count possession of child sexually abusive material.

The charges stem from his illicit relationship with the 15-year-old female victim that took place in late 2014. During the course of their contact with each other, Cheney and the victim exchanged nude and sexually-suggestive photos of one another, the latter using a cell phone that Cheney had given to her, Dodge said.

“You knew this conduct was wrong,” Dodge said. “You admitted as much today, yet you continued to engage in it.”

Cheney also had contact with the victim outside of electronic means, even picking her up from school and taking her back to his apartment. Though the victim denies the two ever engaged sexual intercourse, letters and statements from Cheney suggest that the two did engage physically, said Assistant Prosecutor Tiffiny Vohwinkle.

“The victim, at the time I interviewed her, clearly has strong feelings for the defendant because of his predatory conduct,” Vohwinkle said. “There were multiple days where they were spending time alone together.”

The prosecution pointed out the strong language contained in some of the letters Cheney wrote to the teenager. Judge Dodge quoted the language from one of these messages, which described how Cheney “missed seeing her sexy smile or the taste of her strawberry lips.”

“Though you claim this was strictly a friendship, these letters can only be described as love letters with sexual overtones,” Dodge said.

Cheney was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, and had undergone surgery, ensuring that there was no way the relationship could escalate to intercourse, said his defense attorney, Gregory Feldman. Given Cheney’s illness and age, combined with the fact he only has one prior conviction on his record, in the 1970s, the attorney argued that his client should only have to serve a jail sentence for his actions.

“I was going through a lot of stuff at the time,” Cheney said. “I just lost my faith.”

Despite his situation, Dodge felt that the defendant deserved a sentence near the midrange of the mandatory sentencing range, due to his predatory behavior and to deter him from committing similar actions in the future, he said.

Cheney was given credit for 65 days already served.

Also sentenced Friday:

• Jennifer Kay Thompson, 41, of Dowagiac, to three years of probation and $2,960 worth of restitution for welfare fraud.

• David Lynn Kelly, 47, of Cassopolis, to 18 months of probation for possession of cocaine.

• David Glenn Green, 46, of Sturgis, to 18 months of probation for possession of marijuana and meth.

• Scott Christopher Trout, 21, of Dowagiac, to 18 months of probation for possession of analogues and marijuana.

• Timothy Ace Davis, 28, of Dowagiac, to two years of probation for meth and marijuana related charges.

• Christopher William Ledford, 24, of Lawrence, to 18 months of probation and three days in jail for failure to comply with the sex offender registry.

• Robert Michael Hokanson, 48, of Marcellus, to 18 months of probation for meth related charges.