A Bigfork man was sentenced to at least five years in prison Wednesday for felony sexual assault on a minor.
73-year-old George Wilcoxen was accused of sexually assaulting a six-year-old girl in 2013. He was sentenced to 20 years in state prison with 15 years suspended and 30 days in Flathead County Jail.
Wilcoxen initially plead not guilty, but changed that to an Alford plea Wednesday. An Alford plea allows him to maintain his innocence while acknowledging that the prosecution likely had enough evidence for a jury to convict him.
"I don't disagree. I still maintain my innocence," Wilcoxen said, "but I've always thought to have some sort of peaceful and family-type finish to this, to get it over with with, so to speak. I feel like that's what this is."
Last August, Flathead County District Court Judge Heidi Ulbricht denied a similar plea agreement that recommended a shorter prison sentence. She said the new plea balances Wilcoxen’s rehabilitation with holding him accountable and protecting the public. On the stand Wednesday, Wilcoxen said he took the Alford plea to avoid going to trial later this month.
The victim’s grandmother, who we are not naming to protect the identify of the victim, says the plea agreement was not enough.
"I feel the decision that was reached today, on its face provides some resolution to the victim and the family, but in reality is systematic (sic) of a system that is not providing adequate justice for young victims of sexual assault, including my granddaughter," she said.
Wilcoxen was active in the Bigfork community, having posed as Santa Claus for a number of years.
"I remember the first year my children refused to sit in his lap, and I didn't know why," the victim's grandmother said.
Wilcoxen will have to register as a level-one sex offender, the lowest of three tiers, undergo a sexual offender treatment program and be accompanied by another adult any time he visits someone under 18.