A California man has been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison after he kidnapped an 11-year-old girl in 2021, but 3rd District Judge Randall Grove on Tuesday placed Brian Sangjoon Lee on a rider, which means he could be out of prison before 2023.
In August 2021, the 20-year-old Lee traveled from a Los Angeles suburb to Idaho after making arrangements with the girl through an online gaming program. The victim was found at a Nampa hotel after police searched her cellphone and found that she'd been in communication with Lee's California number, the Idaho Statesman previously reported.
Lee was initially charged with first-degree kidnapping, but as part of a plea deal, his charge was reduced to second-degree kidnapping, according to court documents obtained by the Statesman in March. The maximum sentence for second-degree kidnapping is 25 years under Idaho law.
Lee took the girl after she told him that she was being abused by her family, Deputy Canyon County Prosecutor Shari Dodge said. Caldwell-based attorney Michael Jacques, who is representing Lee, said the girl was lying about being abused.
"The bottom line is this is every parent's nightmare," Dodge said during the sentencing. "We can debate whether (the child) may have some blame in this - but I come back to the fact that she was 11."
On Tuesday, in a relatively empty courtroom, Lee listened in an orange jumpsuit as Grove outlined the terms of his sentence.
Grove sentenced Lee to two years fixed and eight years indeterminate, but he is retaining jurisdiction of the case. That means that in five to seven months, Lee will appear before Grove for a hearing, and if he has met conditions of the rider, he could be released on probation within a few days of the court's decision, Idaho Department of Correction spokesperson Jeff Ray told the Statesman by email.
Ray said the details of Lee's rider are not set because he has yet to undergo an assessment at an IDOC reception and diagnostic unit.
Lee will receive credit for 276 days he's already spent in jail. He also will be required to register as a sex offender.
"It is noble to want to help someone else, to save someone else, but it's foolish to do it the wrong way," Grove said in court. "You were absolutely foolish in this case."
The Canyon County Prosecutor's Office recommended that Lee receive a prison sentence of five years fixed and 15 years indeterminate, Dodge said.
"Anything less than a prison sentence in this case seriously undermines the seriousness of this crime," Dodge said.
Prosecutor lays out additional details about kidnapping
The child's parents were not present during the sentencing, but Grove said that she was speaking on their behalf and that the girl's mother would like to see Lee serve some prison time.
"That 11-year-old and her mother have to live with the fact that this could have ended completely differently than it did," Dodge said.
According to police interviews with Lee and the girl, which Dodge summarized in court, once they were in the hotel, Lee gave the girl a back massage and "took the shirt off because it's a better way to give a back massage," Dodge said.
Dodge said Lee denied kissing the girl, according to the police interview, and said he blew vape smoke into her mouth.
"… Both say consistently that there was cuddling," Dodge said.
According to message exchanges between Lee and the girl, which Dodge also summarized, the girl - who was described as a "latchkey kid" - told Lee that she was being abused by her parents and wanted to run away. No allegations of abuse were confirmed.
"I am certainly not going to stand here and say that there were not issues that this young victim had and continues to have," Dodge said. "But I also do want to emphasize - and will continue to emphasize throughout my argument - that she is 11 at the time that this took place."
Lee says he regrets what he did
Toward the end of the roughly 90-minute sentencing hearing, Lee read a prepared statement in which he stated regret for "every part" of the "worst decision" he's ever made.
"I would like to deeply apologize to the victim and the victim's family for all the stress and pain that I caused them," Lee said. "And I would also like to deeply apologize to my loving parents and family for getting myself in this situation."
Prior to being sentenced, Lee asked for the ability to go back to California. His family - who were present during the sentencing - owns two restaurants and he said he'd like to be able to help them, while also trying to go back to school.
Grove said it is possible Lee could be eligible for an interstate compact transfer after he completes his prison sentence. The Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision agreement could allow Lee to serve his probation while in California.
"Given your age, given your naivete, I am not so sure that placing you directly on probation is going to be that helpful for you - not that I'm trying to help you - but I'm trying to kind of balance the interests here," Grove said. "I want to provide a mechanism for you, for rehabilitation, recognize that this is a serious crime, and impose an appropriate sentence."