11 years meted out for domestic violence

Man has lengthy criminal history

PORT ANGELES — Despite the pleas of his victim, Shelton resident Benjamin Hickson was sentenced last week to 11 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of second-degree assault by strangulation, tampering with a witness — the woman — and four counts of violating a court order that barred him from contacting her.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brent Basden on Thursday meted out the punishment of 133 months, halving the 22 years sought by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Steve Johnson but still prompting a loud moan from the 37-year-old.

Hickson, the father of a 6-month-old daughter and an 18-month-old son, according to the woman, has numerous convictions, including 14 for violating no-contact orders, two for domestic-violence assault and one for intimidating a public servant, according to court records.

A jury found him guilty Dec. 2 after about two hours of deliberation.

“He’s not a bad person; he just made a bad decision,” the woman — his girlfriend, according to court documents — told Basden.

She said they were friends for 20 years, that he once protected her from another man who put his hands on her, that he fathered their child.

“This is the only time this has happened,” she said of the May 21 incident.

“This is someone who mows his grandma’s yard. This has been a nightmare. I wish we could wake up and that it all would go away.”

Hickson, too, addressed Basden.

“I know my record looks bad, but I’m not a bad person,” he said. “I just made some mistakes, and I ask the court to show me some leniency and not give me the maximum sentence.

“Also, if possible, I would like to have contact with my kids, my children, and with the no-contact order on, I don’t think it’s possible.”

The woman told authorities Hickson gripped her neck twice May 21, with him telling her, and her believing, she was going to die, according to the probable cause statement.

Hickson violated the no-contact order by messaging the woman on his jail-issued Chirp device June 2, June 3, June 4 and June 20 while she used an alias on her Facebook account, talking to her in the third person, according to the probable cause statement.

He tampered with her as a witness June 2, telling her “the marks on her neck were from us having sex … ” according to the report.

He urged her to tell authorities that what happened was not because he harmed her.

“I’ll try to make something happen,” the woman responds, according the report.

Basden said it was clear the victim and Hickson were using drugs at the time of the assault, which may have had an impact on how they reacted to the situation.

“What really complicates this case, Mr. Hickson, is your criminal history,” Basden said, adding the jury made the right decision.

He said the compelling issue in Hickson reaching out to the woman was that he did not check on his children or inquire about how the woman was doing.

“Those conversations centered on how do we convince [the authorities] that this didn’t actually occur,” Basden said.

“Whether it be tampering with a witness or the violations of the no-contact order, they all seem to be part and parcel, and you have a history of that,” he said.

“The ability to protect individuals is critical and to give them the space to heal,” he said.

“When people take it upon themselves to just say, I’m in jail, and I’m going to violate that, not based necessarily on analysis of what’s best for her or necessary for your children but based on your own self-interest and in the face of pending criminal prosecution, it’s frustrating.”

Basden said the gap between the 63 months recommended by Hickson’s lawyer, Charlie Commeree of Port Angeles, and the 384 that he could have been sentenced was “a range that’s astounding.”

Basden imposed an order prohibiting in-person contact but allowed phone contact as allowed by the woman.

He said he did not doubt there are moments when Hickson is “an amazing dad,” citing instances the woman described to Basden.

“What is typical of these cases, and I think it’s true of your case, is that there are moments of greatness interrupted by moments that are everything that is the opposite,” he said.

“The moments of greatness don’t take away the other moments. You’ve got to figure out how to control the other moments.”

Commeree said Friday he will file a notice of appeal in the case.

“The sentencing went very well for Mr. Hickson, and we are gratified by that,” he said.

“There is a huge number of evidentiary issues and rulings that the judge made during the trial that will be appealed.

“Whomever gets assigned this appeal is going to have a ton of work on their hands.”

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.

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