Jury finds South Whidbey man guilty of raping children

Prosecutors and detectives hope that guilty verdicts in a child rape trial Monday will help bring closure for two boys who survived devastating abuse, neglect and rejection.

A jury in Island County Superior Court found South Whidbey resident Jonathan Sage guilty of four counts of rape of a child in the second degree with aggravating factors.

Sage, 33, is facing potentially decades in prison. He is well known on South Whidbey and ran his own company, Northwest Public Relations. He met the two boys through their mother, who worked for him at one time.

Island County Chief Criminal Prosecutor Eric Ohme said the boys suffered through horrible criminal acts.

“They showed grit and courage in facing Mr. Sage in court and testifying about the sexual abuse that they endured while in his care,” he said. “The verdicts of the jury have brought them tremendous relief and will be immeasurably helpful in their continued healing.”

A detective with the Island County Sheriff’s Office is still trying to decrypt Sage’s computer; investigators are looking for a video of Sage sexually abusing one of the boys.

The two teenage boys took the stand during the trial and described how Sage befriended them, took them into his home and then began sexually assaulting them for years, beginning when they were just 12 or 13 years old.

“This is a case about secrets,” Ohme said. “It’s about dark secrets kept by two young boys.”

The abuse occurred in 2010 to 2013; the boys are now in high school in a city off the island.

Sage’s attorney, Cassandra Lopez de Arriaga, argued that the allegations simply aren’t true. She described how the boys’ parents failed them for so long and how Sage took over the responsibilities of raising them. They had nothing but good things to say about Sage, she said, until the allegations came forward.

She said people in difficult situations sometimes “make up a different reality.” She said the boys may have been influenced by a friend or out of fear of having to return to their mother.

In his opening statement, Ohme told the jury about the grim realities of the boys’ life. The boys and their mother moved from house to house on South Whidbey after their father left. She descended into drug and alcohol abuse; the house was filthy and she was nonfunctional as a parent, Ohme said.

Sage, the woman’s employer, took them in after they were left homeless. She then moved the boys to her mother’s home in Index for a couple of years, but things just got worse.

The house was filthy with rotting food, animal feces, beer cans and other garbage. The boy’s mother allowed them to skip school whenever they wanted. She would sometimes take them with her to a methadone clinic in Seattle and fall asleep on the drive home, Ohme said.

Their father would occasionally visit but then would leave them again.

The boy’s grandmother kicked the family out of her house because it was trashed. They moved back to South Whidbey and Sage took them back in.

School was a lonely place for the boys. The older boys testified that kids at South Whidbey schools called him homophobic slurs and bullied him; other boys refused to stand next to him in the bathroom because he was gay.

The boys’ mother eventually moved out, but the younger boy ended up living with Sage. The older boy divided his time between his mother’s house and Sage’s place.

Sage “groomed” the two boys in different ways, Ohme said.

The older boy testified that he bonded with Sage, who said he understand how difficult it was to be a gay student on South Whidbey. He said he felt he had a romantic relationship with Sage and didn’t know about his brother’s abuse for years.

With the younger boy, Sage supplied him with alcohol on a near-daily basis. After the boy was intoxicated, Sage played pornographic videos and sexually assaulted him.

“I tried not to think about it,” the boy said repeatedly in court.

He testified that the abuse made him feel different, or apart from other children at school. He described how he would go outside during lunchtime at school, stand in the same spot every day and stare at the horizon until his footprints grew indelible in the ground.

The boys were finally taken in by their father and his girlfriend after their mother got a restraining order against Sage. She was angry when he demanded the money she received for the children’s food and childcare; the boys testified that she was spending it on herself.

The older boy, at the urging of a friend, eventually told his father about the abuse. The father confronted Sage and cut off contact, but both he and his older son decided to let the younger boy decide whether or not he wanted to go to the police.

One night the boy had an epiphany, said Ohme, and decided to go to police because he didn’t want Sage to victimize anyone else.

Before the trial, Ohme made a motion to amend the charges against Sage to include an animal cruelty count. Sage allegedly sexually abused a dog in front of one of the boys, according to court records.

Ohme decided not to purse the charge, however, but instead questioned the boy about the incidents during the trial.

Sage is facing an indeterminate sentence with a standard range of 17.5 to 23.3 years, but the long list of aggravating factors — such as his use of “a position of trust” to facilitate the crime — allows the judge to go beyond the standard range. Ohme said it’s very likely that he will recommend a sentence beyond 23 years.

An indeterminate sentence means that Sage could be held in prison for the rest of his life. After he serves the regular sentence, a review board will determine whether he should be released.

Sage was taken to jail after the verdict was read. A sentencing hearing hasn’t been set yet.