Above: Jackson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kelsey Guernsey, right, describes sexual assaults allegedly committed by Herbert Hill, left, as defense attorney Leonard Ballard listens in Jackson’s 4th Circuit Court on July 26.
by Julie Riddle
JACKSON ― Two fewer predators will endanger young Jackson County girls after the sentencing of two men to a combined 62 years in prison in Jackson’s 4th Circuit Court on July 26.
Judge John McBain sentenced Herbert Hill, 56, to 37 years for sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in 2019.
During a separate hearing, McBain sentenced Solomon Snellenberger, 46, to 25 years for sexually assaulting a minor over a period of years.
Though Hill and Snellenberger ultimately were only charged with hurting one child each, both men are accused of sexually assaulting numerous children in Jackson.
‘FOR JUSTICE FOR THE GIRLS’
In an impassioned statement urging McBain to sentence Hill to 40 years in prison, Jackson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kelsey Guernsey said sexual predators must be incarcerated for as long as possible for the protection of the community. (More below)
When Hill gets out of prison in his 90s, she hopes he will have changed enough “that he maybe will stop hurting small humans that live in Jackson County,” Guernsey said. “Because nothing else has stopped him.”
A jury in May found Hill guilty of criminal sexual conduct involving a child younger than 13, a crime that could carry a sentence of up to life in prison.
Michigan law excludes most testimony about crimes unrelated to the charges considered at trial. McBain ruled that exceptions to the law allowed other witnesses to testify that Hill sexually assaulted them when they were children, although he has not been found guilty for that alleged abuse.
The jury heard stories of at least five alleged rapes of young girls, the earliest a 13-year-old in 2000.
Above: Herbert Hill, left, listens as defense attorney Leonard Ballard speaks in Jackson’s 4th Circuit Court on July 26
In 2004, Hill was convicted in Jackson County of third-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a minor, according to Michigan Department of Corrections records. Those records indicate Hill was sentenced to one year in prison for that crime. The incident does not appear in publicly available online court records.
One witness at Hill’s May trial also testified in a trial several years ago, saying that Hill had sexually assaulted her when she was 13.
That trial resulted in a hung jury. The witness’s willingness to go through the trauma of testifying again spoke to the seriousness of Hill’s crimes, Guernsey said.
“This is the level of monster you have standing in front of you,” Guernsey told McBain. “That is who this human is.”
In a survivor impact statement, the mother of the child assaulted by Hill in the present case said she worried about the long-term impact his abuse will have as her daughter navigates future relationships.
“Please, for the justice for the girls, give him life (in prison),” the mother pleaded with McBain. “Please. You can not rehabilitate an animal.”
The Exponent does not identify survivors of sexual assault without their permission.
Hill, in a statement to McBain before sentencing, objected to Guernsey’s characterization of him as a monster. Reading from a multi-page, handwritten statement, he accused the court of violating the Constitution by not granting him a speedy trial.
Originally scheduled for October 2020, Hill’s trial was delayed several times by COVID-19-related court closures and other complications.
A key witness who could have exonerated him died before the case could come to trial, Hill told McBain.
Noting Hill’s lack of remorse, McBain wondered aloud why the experience of previously serving prison time as someone who sexually abused a child ― often a sentence resulting in especially bad treatment from other inmates, McBain said ― did not teach Hill to not abuse kids.
A pre-sentencing report created by the Department of Corrections and partially read into the record by McBain called Hill a “chronic sexual abuser of young girls” who is “highly dangerous and should be removed from the public to protect teens in his community.”
McBain sentenced Hill at the high end of the state’s recommended range. If he lives through his 37-year sentence, Hill will be in his early 90s when released.
‘I LIVED IN FEAR’
Above: Solomon Snellenberger appears in Jackson’s 4th Circuit Court on July 26.
Snellenberger, also labeled a chronic sex abuser of children by the court, will spend 25 years in prison for sexually assaulting a minor.
The primary difference between the two men is Snellenberger’s admission that he abused children, Guernsey told the court.
Snellenberger pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a person younger than 13.
Five other charges, including three additional sexual assault counts and two counts of indecent exposure, were dismissed as a part of the plea agreement.
Snellenberger’s contrition did not reduce the seriousness of what he did, Guernsey told McBain during the sentencing hearing.
“This is easily a case I could have walked in and asked you to give him 100 years,” Guernsey said. “And it would have been justified.”
In accordance with the plea agreement, McBain sentenced Snellenberger to 25 to 50 years in prison, the minimum sentence for the charge under which Snellenberger was convicted. He was given credit for 307 days served.
Snellenberg declined to comment before sentencing.
A woman named as a victim in one of the charges dismissed as part of the plea agreement offered a survivor impact statement. Snellenberger abused her as a young teen, leaving her terrified of all men, even strangers at the grocery store, she told the judge.
“I lived in fear, and I was 13 years old,” she said, calling Snellenberger a predator and child molester.
Keeping her abuse a secret to try to protect her family, she watched, horrified, as he assaulted other young girls as he had assaulted her, the woman said.
While neither she nor the other girls he abused may ever fully heal, the woman said she knows who to blame for her pain.
“I know that it was never our fault,” she told the judge. “It was Solomon. It was always Solomon.”