Sundance Film Festival Co-Founder Jailed For Child Sex Abuse
Sterling Van Wagenen, a filmmaker and co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival, has been sentenced to at least six years in prison after pleading guilty to child sex abuse.
Van Wagenen plead guilty to sexually touching a young female victim on two occasions between 2013 and 2015 when she was seven and nine-years-old.
Judge Robert Griffin, who delivered the sentence, stated that he hopes the parole board will keep the 72-year-old in prison longer than the minimum sentence he was handed.
The young victim, who is now in her teens, read a furious and damning letter in court directed at Van Wagenen.
"You've had at least four or five chances to do this and you never took them. You lied to literally everyone. So don't apologise for the damage you could have addressed if you weren't a coward. I strongly believe the only thing you were actually torn up about is the fact you got caught," she said.
The victim came forward after Van Wagenen was publicly accused of molestation by his son's childhood friend, Sean Escobar, who said the filmmaker touched him inappropriately at a 1993 sleepover when Escobar was 13 years old.
No charges were laid over that incident, but in court Van Wagenen thanked Escobar for coming forward. Instead, he said: "I want you all to know I feel the consequences of what I've done. I feel them deeply."
Griffin stated that, despite Van Wagenen's experience of sexual abuse in childhood, the filmmaker was aware of the consequences of his actions and emphasised that the "past does not justify the present".
Griffin also thanked the young victim for coming forward.
"I want the victim to know you did the right thing and you're not responsible for anything that happened and anything that will happen. You're a brave young lady," he said.
Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the U.S. and was established by Van Wagenen and actor Robert Redford in 1978.
After retiring from the festival in 1993, Van Wagenen went on to become a university lecturer at Utah's Brigham Young University.
He retired from this position after Escobar's accusation came to light.
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