“Monstrous” sex offender gets 35 years
Joseph Kessen fondled 7-year-old relative
by Greg Marsten
Leader staff writer
BALSAM LAKE – Admitted child sex offender Joseph G. Kessen, 65, of rural Luck, is almost sure to die in prison after Polk County Circuit Court Judge Molly GaleWyrick went above and beyond even the county prosecutor's suggested sentence for his conviction of a 2012 sexual assault of a 7-year-old female relative.
Kessen was sentenced in Polk County Court on May 4 after he pleaded guilty last year to second-degree sexual assault of a child and faced the potential of 40 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. His history of violent, sexual behavior and criminal activity culminated in the troubling sexual assault in May 2012, a crime that led Polk County District Attorney Dan Steffen to refer to him as one of the most frightening criminals he's ever seen.
"Honestly, he has no positive character traits," Steffen said, shaking his head in disgust. "(He has) a combination of a violent history, with numerous incidences of sexual deviancy."
Steffen cited multiple arrests, convictions, failed treatments and numerous psychiatric evaluations that all pointed to Kessen being "essentially untreatable." He noted the most recent mental health evaluation of Kessen as having the highest score he had ever seen, meaning he is almost sure to reoffend.
"Honestly, judge, I haven't seen an evaluation like this since I've become DA," Steffen said as he quoted from several reports, evaluations and mental health reviews, one of which went back to a 1985 conviction for sexual assault of a preteen female, which occurred as he was dating a 16-year-old girl.
Reading from the presentence investigation from that 1985 conviction, when Kessen was known as Joseph G. Korn, (he changed his name in November 1999, after that 1985 sexual assault conviction.) Steffen noted that the psychiatrist said the "only question ... is the length of his prison sentence. Now, here we are, over 27 years later, dealing with the results of his (actions) on a young relative," Steffen said, shaking his head. "There is an absolute necessity to protect the public."
Steffen then recommended a 30-year sentence, with eight years of incarceration and 22 years of extended supervision. He noted Kessen's numerous health issues, he entered the court wearing an elaborate hip and leg brace apparatus, and was only able to sit with the assistance of a jailer, and that he was not likely to live out the sentence.
In fact, Kessen has been under costly medical supervision since his arrest in May 2012, where he tried to commit suicide between when he was found fondling the child and when police arrived a short time later.
Steffen also read a note from Kessen's adult daughter, who cited his lifetime of deviant behavior, refusal to complete treatment and ultimate criminal activity, as well as how he has forever harmed the family and all his relatives. The daughter wrote that she "hoped he lived twice as long, (knowing he) would never see his family again."
Steffen also cited the legal reference of the crime as a felony Class C, one of the most serious of all criminal classifications.
"Next to the loss of life, the state Legislature has decided to make (this type of sexual crime) the most serious in the state," he said, noting Kessen's criminal record that included four separate sexual assault of a child convictions.
In a rare twist, Kessen's court appointed defense attorney, Stephen J. Dunlap, disputed nothing the prosecutor stated, and even went beyond.
"Everything Mr. Steffen mentioned is true," Dunlap said. "These are serious, serious offenses. (Kessen) has done everything that we as a people, as a society, despise. There certainly is a need to protect the public."
Dunlap said the only redeeming factor for the judge to consider was that Kessen did not force a trial and make the young victim testify against him.
"As disgusted with himself as he was, he attempted to take his own life. He made other attempts after that, also obviously unsuccessful," Dunlap said. "Now he has to live with what he did for the rest of his life."
Dunlap called Steffen's recommendation for sentencing "fair," and said his client had no expectation to outlive his sentence. "He doesn't think he'll ever get out of prison," Dunlap added.
Opposite of the first time Kessen sat in GaleWyrick's courtroom just over a year ago, facing the charge, Kessen had fallen asleep at his table. This time, he was wide awake and even spoke to the charge.
"I have no excuse for what I did," Kessen said bluntly.
Then GaleWyrick let loose, citing his violent past history, multiple convictions in 10 different Wisconsin counties, almost complete lack of work history and seemingly constant blaming of others for his sexual assaults and violence, going back to his youth. She cited a previous rape conviction of a 6-1/2-year-old girl, as well as numerous other convictions for a variety of violent crimes.
GaleWyrick said he was not a victim of mental health or substance abuse issue, but that he was something different completely.
"It's not alcoholism. It's you," she said as quoted from numerous psychological reports, some of which went back over 30 years, with his multiple failures to follow through with treatment at every turn, noting that in one instance, he refused to attend court-ordered mental health treatment, while he was incarcerated.
"What better activities did you have to do in prison?" she asked, calling his history of violence, criminal activity, sexual convictions and more "almost incomprehensible."
Kessen then chimed in, telling the judge that he "wouldn't be surprised if you gave me life in prison," he said.
GaleWyrick continued, noting a need, an obligation, even, to protect the public and young children from his actions, and that his unwillingness to accept responsibility or treatment for his actions, as well as his history, going back to classified juvenile actions, even, were hard to describe.
The judge then said that she "can't even begin to count the number of victims," stating that for all the convictions, prison time and charges, there were "likely to be untold other, unknown victims along the way."
Taking a deep breath, GaleWyrick looked him in the eye.
"Your acts are monstrous," she said as she announced the sentence, going beyond the prosecutor's recommendation, sentencing him to a near maximum 35 years, 25 of them incarcerated, and the remaining decade of extended supervision.
"This (sentence) won't be any comfort to your family or (the victim)," she added. "That child will need years and years of therapy."
Kessen had no final comment and was led out of the courtroom by the jailer for the last time, where he will be incarcerated in a state prison until at least April 2037, when he will be 89 years old.
A Polk County jailer leads Joseph Kessen from the courtroom for likely the last time, as he will be incarcerated until at least April 2037. - Photo by Greg Marsten