Lawrence man’s sentence for child sex crime suspended to probation; prosecutor to appeal

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Trey L. Gibson, left, speaks to his attorney, Cooper Overstreet, during a preliminary hearing in Douglas County District Court on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Gibson was accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in January 2021.

Story updated at 6:50 p.m. Tuesday:

A Lawrence man was sentenced on Tuesday in Douglas County District Court to 10.5 years in prison for a sex crime against a child, but his sentence was suspended to five years of probation.

The man, Trey L. Gibson, 20, of Lawrence, had been convicted of one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child and one count of felony criminal threat after he pleaded no contest to the two charges in April.

As the Journal-World previously reported, Gibson was originally charged with rape, aggravated indecent liberties with a child and kidnapping. He received additional charges for sexual exploitation of a child/possessing media of a child under 18 in March, but those charges and others were dropped as part of the eventual plea agreement.

At the sentencing, Judge Stacey Donovan said that Gibson’s age, mental health history and network of support were all reasons why she decided to depart from sentencing guidelines and grant him probation. She also said that his experiences as a child played a role in her decision. Trey Gibson’s adoptive father, Roger Gibson, testified that before Trey was adopted at age 5, he lived in a family where his birth mother was unable to care for him and his father ran a prostitution service out of the home.

“This is a very large leap of faith the court is taking,” Donovan said.

The charges against Trey Gibson stemmed from an incident in which he was accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in the back of his car at gunpoint in January of 2021.

At a preliminary hearing in November the girl testified that the two had met up to smoke marijuana together at Lyons Park in North Lawrence when Gibson allegedly demanded she get in his car, showing her what she believed to be a shotgun.

Gibson then drove her to the parking garage next to the Lawrence Public Library and sexually assaulted her, she testified.

“He said ‘Don’t yell, there’s no one around us,'” the teen said as she described the assault while crying. “I kept asking him why. ‘Why’ is all I knew what to say at the time.”

Later, Gibson reached out to the teen, seemingly to apologize. According to Instagram messages shown in court, he asked if there was anything he could do to make things right.

“If there is some way that I can repay you without ruining my life, I would like to,” Gibson said in the message.

The teen then asked for him to send her $150. Screenshots of another social media app, Venmo, showed Gibson sending her the number with “apology” listed as the subject of the transaction.

Gibson’s ex-girlfriend later recorded a conversation in which Gibson said that he did have sex with the girl, and the ex-girlfriend later turned the recording over to police.

Gibson was originally arrested on July 13, 2021. He was later released from custody after he posted a $90,000 cash or surety bond. When Judge James T. George set the bond, a prosecutor said the amount was appropriate because Gibson has “extensive criminal history.”

According to court documents, all of Gibson’s prior cases occurred when he was a minor. He was previously convicted of unlawful voluntary sexual relations and sexual battery in Douglas County’s juvenile court and sentenced to a year of intensive supervised probation.

Senior Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Vrana said Tuesday that the state planned to appeal the sentence. He pointed to Gibson’s prior cases as a juvenile and said that counting those cases, Gibson “has abused three women in this community” but had never been sentenced to prison.

“How many more must he abuse before he goes to prison?” Vrana said.

Vrana also pointed to testimony from Gibson’s probation officer in his juvenile cases, Jennifer Hylton, who testified that she had worked with Gibson from 2018 to 2021 and that Gibson utilized every counseling resource that he had access to. Vrana said that those years of counseling, supervision and support from friends and family hadn’t prevented Gibson from reoffending.

Gibson addressed the court on Tuesday and said that he was prepared to accept whatever sentence the judge decided and that he felt remorse for what he did.

“I have grown a lot over the last year and I have started taking advice from those around me,” he said.

The girl was also present at the sentencing and attempted to read a statement but then broke into tears and asked Vrana to read her statement to the court instead.

“I can’t be around any older male without feeling suffocated,” the statement read. “I can’t look at my body. I can’t feel the touch of car leather on my skin. I wouldn’t feel safe letting this thing (Gibson) out on parole for a second time.”