Niles man to serve time in jail after taking advantage of girl

NILES – It was an emotional morning in Berrien County Trial Court Monday as a Niles man who molested a young girl earlier this year was sentenced. The girl and her mother both spoke of how much damage the incident had caused their family.

Lennie Leroy Cole, 52, of Niles-Buchanan Road in Niles, pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in a plea agreement that limited jail time to nine months. He was sentenced to five years of probation, 270 days in jail, registering as a sex offender and $1,258 in fines and costs. He has credit for 63 days served.

Besides the jail term and registering as a sex offender, his probation terms include having no contact with any female age 17 or younger, no contact with the victim, no social media profile and no access to the internet. He cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school or 500 feet of a park. Restitution, which could be more $15,000, will be determined later.

Lennie Leroy Cole

The incident occurred in February at a residence in Niles Township where Cole plied the young victim with alcohol and took advantage of her.

The young victim as well as her mother spoke before the sentencing.

“As a survivor of molestation myself, I know what she’s going through,” the mother said. “He’s doing nine months. My daughter will suffer for a lifetime.”

“It’s sick, what he has put our family through is inexcusable,” she added. “My daughter tried to kill herself in May and we had to hospitalize her.”

“I have so many questions, but I want to start out with why,” the victim said through tears. “Why did you think you had the right to do this to me?”

For his part, Cole apologized and blamed the incident on alcohol. He said he has a good job waiting for him and wants to go back to being a productive citizen.

While defense attorney Tat Parish argued for a lighter sentence and noted Cole’s lack of a criminal record, Berrien County Trial Judge Charles LaSata initially indicated he was trying to find a way to deviate from the guidelines and send him to prison.

“We’re on different pages. I’m looking to deviate from the guidelines,” Judge LaSata said, noting that Cole also had a contempt charge from consuming alcohol while out on bond and also attempted to bribe the girl’s mother. “I’m not trying to be more lenient, but punish him more.

“This is a terribly troubling case, I have a great deal of sympathy for the family. The court sits here having to apply the law and restrained by the guidelines and plea agreement.

“With five years [of] probation, we will have the chance to monitor you and you cannot be near the victim or other children for the next five years,” he said. “This girl shouldn’t have to be dealing with this situation. Everything she’s going through is completely on you.”

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