Judge sentences Lawrence massage therapist to life in prison for multiple sex crimes
photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office
Updated at 1:20 p.m. Friday
A Douglas County judge sentenced a Lawrence massage therapist to three terms of life imprisonment for committing several sex crimes against five people, one of whom was a child and three of whom were soccer players at the University of Kansas at the time of the incidents.
Judge Sally Pokorny sentenced Shawn P. O’Brien, 50, for eight charges he was convicted of during a trial in August. Three of the charges accused O’Brien of indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14 for allegedly fondling a girl who was either 9 or 10 on three occasions between 2013 and 2015. The girl said in court on Friday that she is now 17.
All three were off-grid felony charges and resulted in a “hard 25” life sentence — which mandates at least 25 years in prison before the possibility of parole. Pokorny said the three life sentences would be served concurrently.
The teen, who spoke to the court prior to sentencing, said she wanted the judge to order a severe sentence for the trauma O’Brien caused her and others.
“I mean this in the most disrespectful way possible: I hope you rot in hell,” the teen said to O’Brien.
The other five charges accused O’Brien of sexual battery, a misdemeanor, for fondling four women while giving them massages to treat athletic-related issues, including alleviating pain around their groins, between 2016 and 2019. Three of the women played for KU’s soccer team. O’Brien had a contract with Kansas Athletics to provide massage treatments to many athletes on KU’s campus. The contract was terminated after initial charges were filed against him, the Journal-World previously reported. The fourth woman was a KU student who played Ultimate Frisbee and was a client at O’Brien’s office.
For those convictions, Pokorny sentenced O’Brien to serve a year in county jail for each. If O’Brien were to be granted parole after serving 25 years for the felony convictions, he would then have to serve another five years in jail for the misdemeanor convictions. That means he will have to serve a minimum of 30 years in jail and prison and he would be 80 years old before he could be released.
Pokorny said she felt that was appropriate because it meant O’Brien would have to serve a separate sentence for each of the victims in the case.
Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez said in a news release that she hoped the sentences sent a message.
“These sentences can’t erase what happened to the survivors,” Valdez said. “But I hope the strong message from the court can restore their sense of empowerment, safety and justice.”
Before Pokorny handed down the sentence, the teen told the court she often wondered why she was the person who was assaulted by O’Brien and that she couldn’t understand why it happened.
During the trial, the teen testified that O’Brien had given her “massages” that started on her head, but he then worked his way down her neck and shoulders to her chest, below her shirt, and inside her underwear. She said these incidents occurred when she was staying the night at his home, trying to sleep on the living room floor as some of his own children slept nearby.
While the teen said O’Brien’s actions hurt her, she said “no amount of statements can emphasize how awful of a person you are.”
The teen’s mother, who was friends with O’Brien when the incidents occurred, told O’Brien that he abused her trust.
“I’m not going to forget what you did,” she said.
Additionally, the three former KU soccer players all provided statements during the sentencing, telling the court they suffered from depression, anxiety and other mental health struggles after they were assaulted.
During the trial, they testified that while O’Brien was providing massage therapy for the team, he touched their genitals under their clothing while applying hot stones to sore areas without asking for permission. One of the athletes said in her statement on Friday that he also choked her and pulled her hair during the incidents.
Despite their ongoing trauma, the athletes also told the court on Friday that they were strong to be standing together to see O’Brien held accountable for his crimes. One athlete said in her statement — which Valdez read to the court — that she felt O’Brien tried to intimidate her during the trial, portraying himself as a large, strong man. But she said his actions and the convictions showed otherwise.
“You are so small and insignificant,” she said.
A mother of one of the athletes also provided a statement, telling the court that the call she had received from her daughter about the incident was the worst moment of her life. But she also said she was proud of the girls for coming together to help put O’Brien behind bars. She said their strength to speak out about the incidents showed that they were brave young women who would not allow crimes like these to go unpunished.
Meanwhile, O’Brien did not show any emotion or express any remorse for his actions. His attorney, Philip Sedgwick, told the court he “emphatically denied” that the crimes occurred.
When O’Brien spoke to Pokorny before she handed down the sentence, he said he did not have ill intentions and he apologized to the victims for “any misunderstanding.”