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Man sentenced to prison for violent rape of woman in case judge calls ‘one of the worst things I’ve ever seen’

Crime Watch

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Chet Neilson enters a Teton County courtroom Tuesday afternoon before being sentenced to prison. | Eric Grossarth,

DRIGGS — A man who almost got away with a violent rape over two years ago will now spend time behind bars.

District Judge Steven Boyce sentenced 31-year-old Chet K. Neilson to 15 to 25 years in prison Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to felony rape. The courtroom was packed and deputies brought in extra chairs for people attending the sentencing hearing.

The guilty plea came as part of an agreement made with Teton County Prosecutors at a mitigation hearing in September. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped a felony battery charge and felony enhancement of infliction of great bodily injury.

Investigators with the Teton County Sheriff’s Office tied Neilson to the Aug. 4, 2017, rape by collecting his used chewing tobacco and matching it with DNA from a sexual assault exam of the victim.

“Mr. Neilson, you committed a shocking crime,” Boyce said before handing down the sentence. “I’ve been in the law 25 years and this is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”

Neilson attacked the then 26-year-old woman as she was walking in the Victor City Park around 1 a.m. that August morning. The man, later identified as Neilson, grabbed her mouth and threw her to the ground before raping her. During the assault, Neilson repeatedly said he would kill her if she made any noise.

Chet Neilson addresses the court during his sentencing hearing Tuesday. | Eric Grossarth,

During the sentencing hearing, it was made known that Neilson strangled the victim to the point she passed out. The lack of oxygen caused blood vessels in her eyes to burst. Boyce said he’s only seen injuries like that in cases where the victim does not survive.

The Teton County Sheriff’s Office opened its investigation immediately after the attack but had little leads. Last August, detectives received a tip that led them to Neilson.

The following week, detectives, along with the Idaho State Police and the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, began a surveillance operation to collect a DNA sample from Neilson. Investigators were successful in obtaining used chewing tobacco spit from Neilson’s mouth.

Lab results from the DNA test showed the “profile is at least 163 octillion times more likely to be seen if Chet Neilson is the source than if an unrelated individual randomly selected from the general population is the source.”

Deputies arrested Neilson and he confessed to the violent rape.

Neilson said Tuesday he lived every day after the attack with regret and guilt. He said he often thought of turning himself in or taking his own life, but “didn’t have the courage to.”

“There has been many days I asked myself how I got there and how I could do what I did,” Neilson said, mentioning that he was a married father with four young children at the time of the rape.

Neilson said he couldn’t describe the pain he felt after the sexual assault before apologizing to the victim.

Chet Neilson | Madison County Jail

“I want her to know I’m very sorry for what I’ve done,” Neilson said.

The victim gave her own statement and described the pain she’s felt since the rape. She also shared written quotes from her supporters while saying she was speaking not only for herself but others in similar circumstances.

“Today will help future victims speak out and find justice,” the victim said.

She said she hopes to find forgiveness for what Neilson as Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Richard Friess called her courageous and strong for speaking up.

“This isn’t a rape case typically of what I’ve seen or what most people have seen,” Friess said. “… This was a non-provoked violent attack.”

Friess recommended Neilson be sentenced 10 to 25 years in prison, calling anything less “not appropriate.”

Defense attorney Sean Moulton recommended his client serve a rider and said when he first met Neilson, he was completely candid about what he did and wanted to plead guilty. He mentioned how Neilson has no prior criminal record but struggles with cognitive disabilities. Moulton described reports calling those cognitive deficits as “thinking errors.”

Boyce referred to a psychosexual evaluation done before Neilson was sentenced showed deception in a polygraph. He also said it’s concerning how Neilson said he saw the victim and had a “sexual urge” before raping her in a seemingly random act.

“This rape was so violent she was literally fighting for her life,” Boyce said.

In addition to time in prison, Boyce ordered Neilson to pay a $1,000 fine and $375 in court costs. He will also have to pay $5,000 to the victim as well as restitution.

Neilson will have to register as a sex offender for life.

“You’ve thrown your whole life away with one random act,” Boyce said.