A 75-year-old man who pleaded guilty to having sex with children has been sentenced to probation instead of prison time by a judge who already has been heavily criticized for granting lighter sentences for similar crimes.


A 75-year-old man who pleaded guilty to having sex with children has been sentenced to probation instead of prison time by a judge who already has been heavily criticized for granting lighter sentences for similar crimes.

Shawnee County District Court Judge Matthew Dowd on Friday sentenced Harold Dean Spencer for two counts of sex with children, ages 6 and 7, prosecutors said.

A new state law going into effect July 1 might have prevented Dowd from granting the probation terms.

District Attorney Robert Hecht said he plans to appeal the sentence and another similar case Dowd decided earlier in the week.

Hecht said Kansas statutes, patterned after the national “Jessica’s Law,” call for a life sentence on each count for Spencer.

Dowd instead ordered a 36-month supervised parole period. Dowd listed a number of factors in his decision including Spencer’s age, the lack of a prior criminal record and the availability of family support.

On Tuesday, Dowd departed downward from sentencing guidelines in a case against Christopher Henderson-Brown, a 32-year-old man convicted of the rape of a 5-year-old child. In that case, Dowd gave a sentence of 155 months, lower than the recommended 166 to 186 months.

“The attack was so violent and so egregious that multiple doctors and surgery were required to reconstruct and repair the physical damage done to this 5-year-old,” Hecht wrote in a statement released Friday.

Hecht said the reason for the appeal was Dowd said he wanted Henderson-Brown to “see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ashley Anstaett, spokeswoman for the Kansas attorney general’s office, said it appears to some of the AG’s legal staff a new state law going into effect July 1 might have prevented Dowd from giving probation in the Spencer case.

But Anstaett said the AG office couldn’t make a definitive statement without more time to research the question and case.

In 2007, Dowd was criticized for three cases in which he departed from state sentencing guidelines to allow probation rather than prison time for men convicted of sex crimes.

State Rep. Joe Patton, R-Topeka, who sponsored the new law after learning of Dowd’s 2007 sentencing decisions, was upset Friday, saying, “That’s outrageous. The community should be outraged.”

The law would allow judges to depart downward from the guidelines in cases of violent sexual crimes, but by no more than half the recommended sentences.

Dowd has announced he will retire on Sept. 1 after 31 years as a district court judge.