Brian Scott Wirth, the 40-year-old former Palm Coast resident who pleaded guilty to molesting, raping and sexually abusing his young children over many years, was sentenced to life in prison without parole today.
Circuit Judge Terence Perkins imposed sentence after a two-hour hearing this morning. Wirth had pleaded guilty in November, hoping to limit the severity of his sentence by sparing his family the trauma of a trial. According to the plea agreement, the judge could sentence him to 35 years to life.
Appearing by video from the county jail with his attorney, Tim Pribisco, Wirth read out a long statement, most of it through tears, taking responsibility for his crimes, apologizing to his family, and at one point describing how he was himself the victim of sexual abuse and how, at age 15, he attempted to take his life with a gun, playing Russian Roulette, but “chickened out. His attorney read a compassionate statement from his wife who also asked for punishment at the lower end of the scale: she continues to support her husband and her children. Pribisco said nothing would be gained by the expressly punitive sentence of life.
But State Attorney Melissa Clark said Wirth’s remorse was conveniently timed even as evidence from jail, through texts with his wife, point to his attempts to find “wiggle room” around prohibitions of contact with his children, and that his release even as an old man in his 70s could potentially expose his then-grand-children or other relatives to further acts of abuse.
The judge had reviewed five hours of video testimony by the three children and spoke of Wirth’s wife, whom he described as also a victim in the case. “I don’t know what she could have done,” the judge said. “I don’t think there’s anything she could have done or could have done sooner or could have seen sooner. But I’m sure that she feels an enormous amount of guilt about that, and is trying to deal with that guilt.” He said she’d remained “a steadfast and loyal and supportive spouse and mother to his children, and I don’t have any criticism for what she is doing. She woke up in a parent’s nightmare and tried to deal with it as best she could, and so I have only praise and respect for what she did in what must have been just the most difficult of circumstances, particularly accepting, as we must do, that right or wrong, she believes that Mr. Wirth is her soul mate, and her husband forever.” He described her as “conflicted as best.”
In a text Wirth’s wife wrote on Nov. 19, after he’d been jailed a few months, she’d written: “Love I will never move on. I could never love someone the way I love you. You have done some messed up stuff and could have treated me better. But u are my best friend my soulmate the l[o]ve of my life.”
In each case, Wirth began assaulting his children when they turned 5 or 6. He had two boys, then a girl. They were all victimized , though he faced charges regarding only one boy and the girl. The oldest boy, now 19, was victimized for a decade, until he reached puberty. The middle boy, in his mid-teens, was still being victimized at the time of Wirth’s arrest, so was the girl, who was 7 at the time of his arrest last summer. It was due to the girl speaking up to her mother that the mother immediately intervened, leading to Wirth’s arrest.
The girl went through a Child Protective Team interview, Clark said, “and she was only 7 years old, and she was able to describe some things that no 7 year old should ever have to describe. All these kids were. They were all exposed to things that no child should ever be exposed to.” The girl described the same pattern of gradual abuse, rapes and humiliations for his gratification at the children’s expense–including Wirth’s attempt to have the girl’s brother engage in sexual acts with her. The brother refused. “She goes into graphic details about all these things that her father was doing to her,” she said. “The only reason we found out about any of this is because [the 7 year old] was brave enough to say something, and had she not, this would still be happening today. And all of these three children are never going to get their childhood back. Never. They have been exposed to things that no child should ever be exposed to by somebody that was supposed to protect them. This was their father. Of all people in their lives, the man that was supposed to protect them from harm was the one who was harming them behind closed doors the entire time, and took their childhood from them.”
Clark had gone through the text messages between Wirth and his wife at the jail to reveal his state of mind, and to show his wife’s continuing support and love. “She has serious concerns of regret about coming forward and what that’s done to her life, and kind of trying to figure that out,” Clark said. “But we also see some of the thought processes of Mr. Wirth, particularly with contact with his kids, and I wanted to highlight that for the court because I thought it was important for the court to see his frame of mind. I would argue to you that you’re starting to see an individual that is going to try and figure out the wiggle room and how to get out of certain court orders.” Clark said Wirth “is the type of offender that the community worries about: doesn’t care about gender, focuses on the very young, and he’s opportunistic, and clearly very bright. We can hear that from his statement here today. My worry is, judge, that he, if released, is going to do this again. He cannot control his urges. He clearly cannot, because he did it to each and every one of his children.”
Pribisco’s arguments were equally strong. He said the family was not seeking the harshest, “purely punitive sentence.” He said it couldn’t be argued in good faith that the 35 year sentence wasn’t punitive enough. “It absolutely creates specific deterrence,” Pribisco said, “for the rest of his life. Thirty-five years plus ankle monitoring, sex-offender probation, risk assessment, you can’t live anywhere you want. And I think a 35-year sentence would reverberate across this community to the extent that anybody is paying attention or taking note. That’s an absolutely hefty sentence under any measure.” The attorney also urged the court to consider that “it is not the case that there is empirical evidence of people charged with these crimes that say, you know, I was going to go a little bit further, but then I learned about a particular sentence.”
As Wirth sat near Pribisco in a room at the jail, hunched over, his head in his hands, the attorney said a life sentence was “futile” when the court could impose “an extremely hefty sentence” of 35 years. “And if we want to talk about actually having a tangible result, why not incentivize this result in a case like this?” Pribisco asked. “Why not say, if a person comes to the table, saves the judicial resources of a trial, saves the emotional taxation on a family of a trial, admits what they’ve done is wrong and accepts responsibility and gets some form of a break–and judge, the form of a break I’m advocating for is perhaps less than five years, or nothing. It’s not as though I’m coming to the table and saying: judge, please let him out on sex-offender probation and community control, I promise he’ll be a good boy. We’re literally talking about a few years that he may breathe air that is not in a Florida prison cell.”
The judge disagreed. He said his thought process at sentencing always begins with “what do the victims want, how are they approaching this.” He spoke of the children’s courage and the wife’s compassion, saying he had nothing but respect for her: he did not blame her for standing by her husband even after the revelations of chronic abuse.
With regards to Wirth, Perkins said, “you know, I think I accept his remorse,” and for a moment it appeared that the judge would lean toward a less harsh sentence. “I’m a actions most often speak louder than words kind of person. I think by accepting his responsibility by plea, and saving his children the humiliation of a public description of what had occurred to them over so long a period of time, I think that does show some compassion on his part to his children, and some remorse. With regards to accepting responsibility, I heard everything he said, and I do find that he has accepted responsibility today, although he didn’t previously. So it seems like when it suits him, he accepts that responsibility.”
He said the victims “still care for their father, strangely enough, despite what they’ve been through at his hands,” and considered those elements, looking at the evidence from that perspective. “I’ve determined that the 35 years is not the appropriate sentence, and for that reason,” the judge said, he was imposing “the sentence of life in prison.”
The plea agreement had reduced certain charges and the number of charges. He was sentenced to life on the charge of lewd and lascivious molestation on a person younger than 12 (his daughter), and life in prison for raping a child between 12 and 16. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison each on two counts of attempted rape of his daughter. He was also sentenced to 30 years for attempted rape regarding his son, and 15 years for lewd and lascivious conduct regarding his son.
The various sentence lengths within each case are to run concurrently. But taken as a whole, the total sentences of the two cases are to run consecutively. It’s not necessarily a technical matter. If, for instance, the life sentences were reversed or altered on appeal, Wirth would still face consecutive sentences that would amount to life in prison.
None of the victims or Wirth’s wife addressed the court, but Wirth did, for 20, weepy minutes interrupted several times by his need to regain his composure as he would wipe away tears with his handcuffed hands, Pribisco standing nearby and often swinging back and forth on his feet.
Repeatedly saying he was taking responsibility for every bad act, he also said he’d been sexually victimized between the ages of 8 and 12, by a member of his family. “I don’t offer this information to garner sympathy or to redirect blame, but more of a map to the origins of my issues,” he said. “With an unlimited amount of time and little else to do but think, I’ve spent many months reflecting and searching my past for what went wrong. Everything leads me back to my own abuse. It was shortly after my abuse ended that the thoughts began.”
Then he spoke of his attempted suicide in details harrowing and rare even in the grisliest court hearing or trial. He did so as he wept.
“When I was 15 I decided I would end my life. The plan was to take my grandfather’s chrome 45 revolver and load one round. I was going to play a game of chance. One out of six. Figured if God wanted me…” he had to stop, collect himself. “Then I was meant to die and the game would end after the first round. So I spun the cylinder, pulled the hammer and cocked it. I put the gun to my head and finger on the trigger. I hesitated. And curiosity got the best of me. I just wanted to see if I was going to lose. As it turned out, I was meant to die that day. I pulled the gun from my head and looked. The only cartridge loaded in that gun was ready to fire.” He paused. “Needless to day, I chickened out. I put that day in the same place I put those four years of my childhood, deep in my mind, locked away and buried. I would just pretend it never happened. As it turns out, ignoring the past and pretending it never happened fixes nothing.”
He described “deviant thoughts” that would never leave him. “Everything I had ever heard about people who had these kinds of thoughts about children never included the words therapy or understanding. It was words like evil, disgusting, monster, prison, and it almost always ended with somebody saying, anyone who thinks like this should be beaten and left for dead. So I kept everything hidden.” He said he couldn’t describe how he regretted it–not because he was in a prison cell, but “because I’ve regretted every decision I’ve made since the age of 8, because it eventually led to me continuing the cycle. Something I swore I would never do. I didn’t want anyone to feel how I felt and in turn think about themselves the way I thought of myself: ashamed, hurt, alone and scared.”
He said he still does not understand how he could have caused the harm he did. Then he said: “The things which I have done are awful. My actions have led to the destruction of my family and confusion and hurt, that which a child should never experience. I have tried to imagine what they must be thinking and going through, what it must be like to have everything upended at such an important period in your life. What it’s like to see your mother cry every day. I doubt that I will ever totally grasp or understand the full range of emotions they experienced no matter how much I try. The one thing I believe that we do experience equally is the sorrow of loss, the loss of family and innocence, the loss of a future, the loss of normal. Thankfully, the futures of my children has yet to be written.”