Billings man sentenced to mental health facility after raping 23-month-old girl

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A Billings man was spared prison on Tuesday for the 2014 rape of an infant whose injuries were so severe that she nearly died.

Daniel Degele, 28, was sentenced by Yellowstone County District Judge Russell Fagg to 100 years to the Department of Health and Human Services, with 60 years suspended.

Fagg restricted parole for the first 25 years of the sentence, meaning Degele will spend at least 25 years at Warm Springs.

Degele was found guilty by way of mental illness, but Yellowstone County Deputy Attorney Juli Pierce challenged the expert opinion that Degele was afflicted when he committed the crimes against the 23-month-old girl.

“His behavior was calculated and that concerns me,” said Pierce. “He waited until his wife left the room and then he raped (the victim). These crimes are heinous. They’re difficult to talk about.”

In December of 2014, Degele raped the infant and placed her back in her crib.

The girl’s mother later discovered the injuries when she checked on the inconsolable child.

The baby was transported to a Billings hospital, but her injuries were so severe that she had to be transported to a Denver hospital for emergency surgery.

The victim’s injuries went up into her abdomen.

Degele was also accused of molesting a 6-year-old girl, but the charges for the case were dropped as part of a plea agreement.

Pierce said she never signed the plea agreement because she did not agree with the defense recommendation that Degele should be sentenced to the custody of DPHHS.

Pierce said she wanted to see Degele sentenced to the Montana State Prison, but said she had to follow the recommendation of Dr. Virginia Hill, a state psychiatrist.

Hill testified on Tuesday about her assessment of Degele.

“I do believe he suffers from schizophrenia,” said Hill, who said that Degele has been on a powerful dose of anti-psychotic drugs throughout his time in custody.

Hill testified that Degele experiences auditory and visual hallucinations, which she said may have influenced his actions the night of the crime.

Hill also admitted that there was some concern that Degele may be exaggerating his mental illness, noting that he had given different answers to different evaluators.

Two of the tests Degele took were rendered invalid because of the inconsistent information.

But Hill still testified that it is her opinion that Degele is mentally ill and needs to be treated at Warm Springs.

“I don’t believe there is any facility in Montana that could provide for his security needs and his mental health needs,” said Hill.

Pierce recommended that Degele be restricted from contact with children, but Hill said she could not guarantee that would be upheld.

Billings Police Detective Brett Kruger was called to testify about the investigation.

He said that in his interviews with Degele, there was no mention of mental illness.

“He said he had some back issues and back pain,” said Kruger.

Degele’s mother testified that her son was a good man.

“My son Daniel Degele, when he is in his right state of mind, would never hurt anyone,” said Mona Crisp Degele.

She said Degele has a history of “special education.”

“We had to break it down a bit more for him to understand,” said Crisp Degele. “He’s an excellent father and he would do anything for them when he is in his right state of mind. He’d never hurt them.”

Degele apologized moments before he learned his sentence.

“I regret it happened, it haunts me every day,” said Degele. “Since I’ve been locked up, I found God and I’m trying to be a better person.”

Degele’s defense attorney asked that there be no parole restriction and agreed with Degele’s mother that he was not in his right mind at the time of the offense.

“Dan is still a human being,” said Gregory Paskell, Degele’s attorney. “Does this act define him? The state wants us to believe it does. But that’s not who he is today.”

Fagg then addressed Degele before delivering his sentence.

“Mr. Degele you have a right to be worried,” said Fagg. “You’ve changed two lives forever. I’ve been at this job for 22 years and if this isn’t the most atrocious it’s certainly one of the most atrocious I’ve ever been a part of. It take Dr. Hill at her word that you were psychotic at the time, but I have a hard time understanding or believing that you were possessed by demons at the time.”

Fagg designated Degele a Tier 2, moderate risk offender.

Fagg ordered Degele to stay at DPHSS until he is mentally stable, at which point Degele would be transferred to the state prison.

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