Scannell, 48, the former prosecuting attorney for Cook County who was convicted in July of two felony sex crimes for his relationship with a teenage girl, was sentenced Friday to
30 days in jail and 10 years of probation. He also must register as a criminal sexual offender for 10 years, and serve 300 hours of community service.
Scannell is scheduled to report to the St. Louis County Jail on Tuesday. He is expected to be held in a private cell for 29 days, having been credited for time served. He worked as Cook County’s elected attorney for nearly eight years until his removal from the post by the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners after his conviction on two counts of fourth-degree sexual misconduct stemming from his relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
The emotional, tear-filled sentencing marked the conclusion to a unique and challenging legal case.
In arguing for jail time of up to one year, Special Prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger called Scannell’s actions “a gross violation” of a community and people he’d once vowed to protect.
Scannell, dressed in tan khakis and a white, button-down shirt, sat with his head in his hand throughout much of his sentencing. He cried and held a tissue throughout an emotive appeal for leniency. He explained to the court that after a 2011 shooting in his office by a man he’d convicted on sex abuse charges, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he sought solace in the arms of the 17-year-old family friend for whom he’d once been considered a positive mentor. His attorney, Joe Tamburino, argued that Scannell wasn’t thinking correctly and that PTSD impaired his judgment.
Scannell said his poetry and love letters to the then-17-year-old girl began in May 2012.
“I 100 percent recognize the error was mine,” an emotional Scannell told the court. “It’s true I didn’t fully recognize the damage and harm I caused to her till she was on the stand.
“She is one of the kindest people I have met in my life,” Scannell said of the victim. “I will never forgive myself for burdening her and her family with my pain.”
The victim is now 19 and attending college in the eastern United States. She was not in attendance at the hearing. Her father spoke, saying, “We’ve lost friendships, a significant portion of our savings, many sleepless nights — all due to a person who betrayed our family and our community.”
“He betrayed us all,” the victim’s father said as he argued for the maximum sentence of one year in jail.
The victim’s mother read from a letter written by her daughter that addressed the court, saying, “I lost friendships that I never before doubted would be lifelong.” The mother said the after-effects of the events will never be over for her daughter, who reportedly lost weight and hair, as well as her trust in people and men as a result of the relationship.
The victim’s parents were family friends with Scannell in Grand Marais. They told the court it will be difficult to find closure.
Scannell was convicted of using his position of authority to initiate a sexual relationship. A jury agreed that Scannell touched the victim’s breasts, abdomen, legs and buttocks in August 2012, while she resisted his attempts to engage in sexual intercourse. She had known Scannell since she was 9, she testified in July, and saw him as a family friend and father figure.
Floerke called Scannell a “vibrant person in the community,” before sending him to jail.
“It works for and against you,” the judge said. “You’re held to a higher standard.”
The attorneys on either side tried to influence the judge by comparing Scannell’s situation to sexual misconduct cases he’d prosecuted in Cook County. Eight of 14 similar cases, Heffelfinger said, resulted in jail time.
“I’m here to sentence this case,” Floerke said. “I hear what you’re all saying.”
Floerke seemed to have compassion for Scannell, listening to him intently and questioning Scannell using a soft voice.
“You’re a public servant who was shot and I don’t know how to unpack that,” Floerke said.
But, in the end, the judge said he couldn’t reconcile sentencing to jail other criminals who commit crimes while suffering from PTSD and not Scannell.
It is not known where he will serve his jail time, as the judge left it up to St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office to weigh the safety liability of holding the former prosecutor while also protecting him.
Scannell has been on release without bail since his conviction in July. He is suffering from PTSD, depression and anxiety disorder. He takes six medications multiple times daily. He is jobless and on disability insurance. He was eager to do community service as part of his punishment, according to Scannell and his attorney.
After his conviction, Scannell was replaced by a woman he’d described as a “superhero” at one point during his trial. Molly Hicken was present in the county attorney’s office when Scannell was shot four times by a man he had just prosecuted on criminal sexual conduct charges in December 2011.
Hicken, with the help of a bailiff, was able to wrestle a gun out of the gunman’s hands and throw it across the room, out of reach, as they waited for police to arrive on scene. Scannell worked sparingly afterward, undergoing several surgeries as part of his recovery.
“I survive because I have a wonderful wife,” Scannell said.
Scannell’s career in law remains in question as the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility has said it would review his case after the sentencing.
Felonies don’t always result in disbarment, but Tamburino said “his career is over.”
“There is no more attorney,” Tamburino said.
In most instances, the age of sexual consent in Minnesota is 16. But criminal charges still can be made if the alleged perpetrator was in a position of authority over the alleged victim.
Scannell previously only admitted to kissing the girl and, on one occasion, inadvertently touching her breast.
“I’m just sorry,” were his last words to the court, before he slumped back into his chair and received his sentence.
Scannell’s wife, Lynn, put her arm around her husband as they walked out of the courtroom and toward a secluded corner.