A Carbon County man was sentenced to a state prison term Tuesday afternoon after previously pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a young girl.
Jason Thomas Ahner, 44, of Lehighton, was sentenced by President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II to serve a total of 81 to 168 months in a state prison. Ahner previously pleaded guilty to two counts each of rape, and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, and indecent assault.
Prior to his sentencing a sexual offenders hearing was held and Ahner was determined to be a sexual violent predator and must register for life as a sexual offender.
Ahner's sentencing was the end of a long journey in the court system. He pleaded guilty on Jan. 9, 2011, to one count of rape of a child and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse but withdrew that plea in July 2011.
He then entered his second plea on July 17, 2012, just after a jury was selected to hear his case. He then pleaded to all the counts listed above.
He was scheduled for sentencing in the case on Jan. 4 but failed to appear and fled the state. A warrant was issued for his arrest and on Feb. 19 county officials were informed by authorities in Harrison County, Mississippi, that they had him in custody. He was extradited back to Pennsylvania.
State police at Lehighton charged that Ahner had sexually assaulted a young girl at a trailer campground over a period of September to October 2009. The girl was 5 years old at the time.
During one of the sexual assaults a resident of the campground observed it through a window of Ahner's trailer. The witness then notified state police.
Yesterday Ahner also pleaded to a charge of default in required appearance for not showing up for the sentencing proceeding in January.
He told Nanovic that he was sorry for what occurred and read a statement in which he said he had been drinking heavily at the time of the incidents.
"I shattered my family, and have no excuse for it," he said. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen, but it did, and I can never forgive myself."
Defense Attorney Christopher M. Shipman told Nanovic Ahner was in a serious automobile accident prior to all these incidents and after that occurred was when he began to drink heavily. He said Ahner lost his marriage and business because of his drinking and that he went into a period of depression.
The mother of the victim told Nanovic her daughter will never be the same. She said, "My daughter lost her innocence much too early in her life." She said her daughter is receiving counseling and didn't know how long that would continue.
Assistant District Attorney Michael S. Greek, who prosecuted the case, told Nanovic it was a difficult case for the commonwealth. He said Ahner prolonged the case by pleading guilty, then withdrawing the plea and forcing hearings in which the young victim had to testify.
He said the young girl managed to get through those proceedings, including a competency hearing.
He added, "I could see the horror in her eyes as we prepared for trial."
He said Ahner would always not admit what he did despite giving a statement to troopers that he did the acts.
Ahner attempted to blame blackouts for his conduct and attached them to his injuries in the accident, but Nanovic rejected that claim.
Nanovic told Ahner, "I'm very upset that someone would do these things to a child." He added, "What you did will affect her for the rest of her life."
Nanovic said there was no sentence he could impose that would have the victim live a normal life again. He chided Ahner about when he was brought back from Mississippi and told authorities he went there to comfort a friend, who he hadn't seen in many years, who was seriously ill. Nanovic said he didn't believe that story either.
Nanovic said, "You went to comfort someone who you hadn't seen in years but not offer any comfort to the victim or her family."
Nanovic imposed a total of 72 to 144 months on the sexual counts and nine to 24 months on the failure to appear count, running consecutively. Ahner was given credit for 111 days spent in jail on the sexual counts and 51 days on the failure to appear.
He was also ordered to supply a DNA sample, have no contact with the victim or her family, zero tolerance on drug and alcohol use, submit to a sexual offenders evaluation, follow all provisions of Megan's Law which includes lifetime registration with the state police as a sexual offender, and pay court costs.