Ex-Utah corrections officer gets prison for sexual assault after hiding in Hawaii for 10 years to avoid that fate

For 10 years, they both looked over their shoulders. He, a former corrections officer who feared he would be found and taken to prison, a sentence he didn’t think he could survive. She, the woman he had sexually assaulted, who feared that he would find her and make good on a threat he made to hurt her son.

On Monday, 12 years after the assault, William F. Lawrence stood motionless, awaiting sentencing in front of a 3rd District judge. He stared at the floor, listening to the woman he had intimidated and sexually assaulted.

“I’ve had double the sentence he would have had,” she said.

Lawrence was convicted of using his badge to solicit sex acts from the woman, but he disappeared in late 2007, before he was sentenced.

While Lawrence was in hiding, the woman felt like she was the one in prison, she said Monday, tears in her eyes.

She enrolled her son in a different school district. She drove him 45 minutes away for swim lessons. She didn’t move into her new house for a year, and she kept no records under her name, out of fear that Lawrence would track her down.

“I don’t think he’s sorry,” she said. “I don’t think he cares. I think he’s sorry he got caught.”

The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.

On Monday, Lawrence was sentenced to zero to five years in the Utah State Prison, the same sentence he had fled to avoid.

Lawrence entered a guilty plea on Dec. 6, 2007, to third-degree-felony forcible sexual abuse, reduced from first-degree-felony forcible sodomy, and was facing a maximum of five years in prison.

He hadn’t understood that he might serve fewer than five years, he said Monday.

“I believed I’d be sent to prison for five years with little to no survival, since I worked there,” he said Monday, pleading for an alternate sentence. He had been hired at the Utah Department of Corrections in Draper on June 27, 2005, and was fired April 21, 2006, the day after the West Jordan Police Department informed the prison of his arrest.

He had fled to Hawaii with his girlfriend and his daughter because he feared that he would be killed in prison and that his young daughter would be left without a father, he wrote in a letter to 3rd District Judge Heather Brereton before Monday’s sentencing hearing.

“I have regretted these choices and lived in fear every day since it happened,” he said Monday, his voice trembling as he added that he knew this would happen one day.

Lawrence’s victim — who was then in her late 20s and is two years younger than Lawrence — connected with the man through an escort service ad on Craigslist, police have said.

The two arranged a tryst at Lawrence’s West Jordan apartment. There, he handcuffed her to his bed, against her will, and threatened to take her to jail and call child protection authorities if she didn’t provide him with sexual favors, charges state.

After Lawrence didn’t show up to his sentencing hearing in April 2008, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

He was found in a rural part of Hawaii after his apartment was burglarized and police found his fingerprints. He had created a fake identity.

In November, U.S. marshals interrupted his lunch and arrested him at a McDonald’s restaurant in Kauai, Hawaii.

“My choice was based on my fears and the love for my family,” Lawrence wrote in the letter to Brereton.

Lawrence also wrote that his domestic partner had asked him to move to Kauai when she found out about the consequences he faced. The woman’s parents and sisters live on Kauai, according to the letter.

“I would not have considered fleeing, especially to Kauai, where I’d never been or knew anything about, if not for [my girlfriend] living there with extended family previously,” the letter continued.

(Courtesy Salt Lake County jail) William Lawrence

Lawrence said his attorney from a decade ago kept him in the dark about negotiations. He had believed he would be sent to prison, where he was sure he “would not survive.” He believed he’d be killed by other inmates who knew him when he worked there, he wrote.

“I couldn’t bear the thought of [my daughter] growing up without a father,” he wrote. The girl, who is now 12, lives with her grandparents.

Defense attorney Adam Elmore argued Monday that Lawrence is a different man now, and that the former corrections officer has “done everything he can to better his life.”

Guilt over absconding motivated him, Lawrence said, to attend therapy sessions, volunteer at the food bank, and clean trash and debris from the shoreline.

“My crime has cost me a beloved career, my reputation, and I will be a convicted felon and registered sex offender for the rest of my life,” Lawrence wrote in the letter. “I’m ashamed of the choices I made which brought me to this point in life. I would give anything to take that day back but I know I can’t.”

On Monday, he asked for a jail sentence as an alternative to prison. The victim balked at that idea when she spoke later. When he disappeared, she said, she had no such hope for peace of mind.

“The second he left, I never got any protection,” she said. “Now he’s crying because he wants to be protected in custody?“