Darren Paden confessed to "monstrous" acts of child sex abuse, a prosecutor said, raping the same little girl at least two or three times every month starting when she was just 5-years-old and continuing for about a decade, and the Dearborn, Missouri, 52-year-old dad of seven was sentenced on Friday to 50 years behind bars.
In all, prosecutors say, Paden raped the girl between 200 and 300 times in that approximately 10-year period.
But astonishingly, in his tiny hometown of only 500 people where Paden's parents are beloved farmers and Paden himself was chief of the town's volunteer fire department, the convicted child rapist is being lauded by neighbors and community leaders as an "admirable" man who "holds fast to his morals."
Several prominent people in the local community wrote letters of support to the court on behalf of Paden — even after he confessed to the horrendous sex crimes against the little girl, who is now 18-years-old. His supporters included schoolteachers, a church trustee, and the president of a local bank, according to a report on WDAF-TV in Kansas City.
As for Paden's victim, whose identity was not publicly released — but is clearly common knowledge in the small, rural town — she says she has been ostracized by the local community, and can't even rent an apartment once a landlord finds out who she is.
"Nobody wants to believe this happens. Nobody wants to think this happens in our town. I feel so unwelcome in the town I grew up in," she told another Kansas City TV station, KCTV.
"I couldn't face this town that made me feel like I was unwanted by everyone. I was genuinely terrified to go into our new café in town because I was scared someone was going to yell at me or refuse to serve me. I was even scared they would tamper with my food."She says she felt forced to transfer out of the local high school because she feared teachers there who shunned her and treated her cruelly.
Paden's 25-year-old son, Anthony Paden, has also been charged with sexual abuse, though the criminal case against him remains pending.
"I truly believe that Darren has already suffered extensively for his actions by being kept away from his young children and his home life, and by not being able to provide for this family," one Paden supporter, Darla Hall Emmedorfer, wrote in a letter to Judge James Van Amberg.
According to a report in The Kansas City Star, another local backer of the convicted child molester, Adele Brightwood, told the judge, "Darren is one of the most admirable people I know. He holds fast to his morals."
An uncle of Darren Paden, Stephen Goodlet, appealed to the judge for leniency, citing Paden's service in the Air National Guard, saying, "He went overseas during the Gulf War and served in mobile hospitals to help wounded soldiers."
But Paden told a psycholgist hired by his own defense lawyer about the repeated rapes, and admitted that he was consumed by fantasies of incest and craved sex with children, "both in reality and in dreams and fantasies."
The psychologist delivered a diagnosis of "pedophile," and when Paden was arrested three years ago, it took him less than two hours to confess to raping the little girl repeatedly. Paden told the girl that the sexual abuse was "our little secret" and that she was forbidden to tell her mother about the acts.
Now the victim says that her mother is one of the few people in the community who believes her story.
The support that Paden has enjoyed from his hometown left Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd appalled.
"It is shocking that many continue to support a defendant whose guilt was never in doubt. If it takes a village to raise a child, what is a child to do when the village turns its back and supports a confessed child molester?"Darren Paden pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree statutory sodomy and was hit with two 25-year sentences, to be served back-to back.
[Featured Image By Platte County Sheriff's Department]