With lengthy testimony during the proceedings, Darren L. Paden learned his fate after pleading guilty to two counts of first degree statutory sodomy in August. Platte County prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd found the case deeply troubling because of the number of community members who continued to disbelieve the young girl, even though the defendant admitted his guilt within the first couple of hours of his police interview and before pleading guilty more than two years after the investigation began.
Those who wrote letters of support for Paden following his guilty plea included a North Platte Board of Education member, former and current North Platte employees, a former public official and multiple former and current members of the business community.
“There are certainly a few good people in this community who have offered support to this young victim,” Zahnd said. “It is shocking, however, that many continue to support a defendant whose guilt was never in doubt. If it takes a village to raise a child, what is a child to do when the village turns its back and supports a confessed child molester?”
When Paden was interviewed by detectives with the Platte County Sheriff’s Department in December of 2012, he admitted his guilt within two hours of the beginning of questioning. Paden also wrote letters apologizing to the victim and his family for what he had done.
Despite the confession and apology letters, Paden refused to plead guilty to his crimes until late this past summer. He admitted to a Missouri Probation and Parole Officer that he told people the girl was lying about the allegations.
At his guilty plea, however, Paden confirmed the girl “was, in fact, truthful” about abuse that began when she was five or six years old and continued for about 10 years.
Paden told the psychologist hired by his criminal defense attorney that he sexually abused the girl two or three times a month over a period from 2001 to 2012. Paden told the girl it was “their little secret” and that she should not tell her mother or anyone else.
In addition, Paden told his psychologist that he fantasized about incest and had sexual interest in children “both in reality and in dreams and fantasies.” The psychologist diagnosed Paden as a pedophile.
At the sentencing hearing, the girl read a lengthy statement to the court that described not only the abuse she suffered at the hands of Paden, but also how she felt rejected by her own community after disclosing the sexual abuse she suffered.
“I couldn’t face the world, and I couldn’t face this town that made me feel like I was unwanted by everyone,” she said in part. “I was genuinely terrified to go into our new café in town because I was scared someone was going to yell at me or refuse to serve me. I was even scared they would tamper with my food. I feel so unwelcomed in a town that I have grown up in.
“I feel like an outsider that just strolled in and everybody is giving their own analysis on and making up gossip that people believe instead of just coming up and talking to me. … Try dealing with that on top of being called a liar every day.”
The girl also said she transferred out of her public school because she “felt as if a teacher would snap on me any second in front of my peers.”
Ultimately, a school board member from the victim’s school testified in support of the defendant. Two retired teachers and three other school employees also wrote letters in support of Paden.
“It is said that we can be judged by how we treat the least of those among us,” Zahnd said. “It breaks my heart to see pillars of this community — a former county official, a bank president, church leaders, a school board member, current and former school employees — appear to choose the side of a child molester over the child he repeatedly abused."
Platte County judge James Van Amburg sentenced Paden to 25 years each on two counts of first degree statutory sodomy involving a victim under age 12. By law, those sentences must be run consecutively, resulting in a 50-year prison sentence.
A charge of felony statutory sodomy remains pending against Anthony Paden, 28 — accused of abusing the same victim. He’s scheduled for a hearing on Nov. 5.
Anthony Paden pleaded not guilty to the charge in 2013.