Former SM East student Kessler Lichtenegger sentenced to 17 years in prison on attempted rape charge

Kessler Lichtenegger, the former SM East student who pleaded guilty to amended charges of attempted rape and attempted electronic solicitation with a child under the age of 14, was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison Wednesday morning. Prosecutors said his criminal history was a major factor in the sentence.

Kessler P. Lichtnegger's booking photo.
Kessler P. Lichtenegger’s booking photo.

Lichtenegger had reached a plea agreement in which four of the six original charges against him were dropped and the remaining two charges were amended down from rape and solicitation.

Johnson County District Court Judge Charles Droege sentenced Lichtenegger to 206 months in prison on the attempted rape charge and 55 months on the attempted solicitation charge. Those were both the low ends of the sentencing guidelines. The two sentences are to run concurrently and Lichtenegger will get credit for 210 days he has been in custody since his arrest this spring. He will have 36 months of post-release supervision and a maximum possible credit of 15 percent reduction for good time behavior in prison.

At a minimum, Lichtenegger would have to serve another 14 years in prison, which would make him 32 when he is released.

Lichtenegger’s criminal history as a juvenile “played a giant role” in the length of the prison sentence called for in the plea agreement, said Assistant District Attorney Jason Covington. Lichtenegger had two prior felonies against persons as a juvenile, prosecutors said. One of those presumed incidents was the subject of stories that ran in April after his arrest on the latest charges. Those stories can be found here and here.

The 2011 incident was documented in court records as an attack on a fellow student at SM East. The parents of that girl had attempted to have Lichtenegger, who lived in Prairie Village, moved from SM East after he was adjudicated in juvenile court, but that request was denied.

In a civil suit related to the 2011 assault, the attorney for the victim’s parents claimed that prior to that incident, Lichtenegger “had sexually assaulted at least one girl such that Defendants knew or should have known of his propensity commit such acts …” That is believed to refer to the other felony against a person in his juvenile history. Because those were juvenile cases, prosecutors could not provide additional details.

The incidents that led to the charges Lichtenegger was sentenced on Wednesday occurred in the summer of 2014 when he was 17 and still a juvenile. He was waived into adult court when he turned 18 in 2015. He was in his senior year at SM East when he was taken into custody in April. He had remained a student at SM East after the 2011 incident until nearing the end of his high school career. His attorney Wednesday told the court that Lichtenegger had completed high school – not a GED – while in custody and is a graduate.

Speaking to the court Wednesday, Lichtenegger apologized to the court, his victims and to his family. Calling it a “disappointment to have a child commit a crime like this,” he apologized to his parents. To the victims, he said, “I hope they can find peace and healing.” He said he will “take the full opportunity” for counseling and education in prison to have a career when he gets out.

A number of family and friends were in the courtroom to support Lichtenegger. His mother was the only one who spoke, saying she had “expected to be seeing her son off to his freshman year of college this year.” She is “concerned about his safety” in prison and the impact the 14 to 17 years will have on him. “We will stand by him. We want Kess to come home safe.”

“There will be a life after prison,” Judge Droege said during the sentencing. “Someday you will get out of there.” He urged him to take advantage of the support in the prison system. “This is a very serious case,” he said.

Before court got under way, a supporter of Lichtenegger had been in the courtroom with a young child and heart-shaped signs that expressed encouragement for him. They were asked to leave before the hearing started.

The charges that were the basis for Wednesday’s sentencing were set in motion when an 11-year-old Johnson County girl’s father saw her exchanging Facebook messages with Lichtenegger in August of 2014, according to court documents. He was 17 at the time.

Lichtenegger was charged as an adult in late March, the same month he turned 18, with rape or intercourse with no consent, aggravated criminal sodomy with a child under 14, two counts of electronic solicitation with a child under 14 and two counts of exploitation.

An affidavit said that the girl told Lichtenegger she was 12, and at his request, she sent sexually explicit photographs of herself. Lichtenegger also asked her several times to meet with him. The affidavit for probable cause also alleges that Lichtenegger had contact with the girl’s older sister who had exchanged explicit photos with him between February and August 2014.

The older girl also met Lichtenegger in a Lenexa church parking lot in the summer of 2014 and engaged in “sexual relations” with him in a van he was driving, according to allegations in the document. She was 13 at the time of that encounter.

Covington said prosecutors had worked with the victims’ family “every step of the way” and believed they were satisfied with the resolution. The parents of the victims did not attend the sentencing, but had been in court at previous hearings. “This type of crime has a long-lasting impact on these victims,” Covington said. The family’s hope was that “justice be served.”