EAU CLAIRE, Wisc. (WEAU) - A 14-year-old sexual assault victim spoke out after her attacker was sentenced.
Stephen Lemere, 26, was sentenced to 30 years in prison Friday after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting the girl.
Charges of reckless endangerment and strangulation were dropped against Lemere.
While in jail, he was also accused of beating an inmate who was convicted of murder, but prosecutors said because of the length of Friday's sentence, they requested that charge to be dismissed.
Lemere was also ordered to spend 15 years on probation after his release.
The victim, Cearra Cook, said it all started with text messages. Cook, then 12-years-old, was staying at her brother's house in Eau Claire last May, when his wife's co-worker Lemere, was at the house, texting Cook, asking her to have sex with him. After saying 'No,' and feeling uncomfortable, Cook said she went into the kitchen and then, was caught off guard.
"He grabbed me by the neck and held a knife to my neck and said if you tell anybody, I'll kill you. Then he put me in a choke hold and strangled me and he pushed me up against the fridge and started touching me innappropriately," Cook said.
Fearing for her life, Cook said she ran out of the house and called her mom, who called police. Lemere was arrested and charged with the assault. Now, more than a year later, Cook said the effects of that night remain.
"I couldn't really trust anyone that I didn't know. After that I kinda got over it, but not really. I still have nightmares," she said.
"She's very strong. She's been through a lot in the last year," Cearra Cook's mother, Tammy Cook said.
But on Friday, things changed.
"I can start a new life now," Cearra Cook said.
After 15 months of court dates and a guilty plea, Lemere was sentenced to prison until after his 54th birthday, a relief for the Cook family.
"I was pretty surprised and I just am happy that he's put away," she said.
Cearra Cook said she hopes others can learn from what she went through.
"If you ever get in this position ... you should tell somebody and don't hold it back and never give up." "I am strong and I hope (other victims) are too."
Staff at the Chippewa Valley Advocacy Center also recommended reporting crimes to police, therapists or counselors to offer help for victims and to begin criminal investigations.
- It's WEAU 13 news policy not to name sexual assault victims, but in this case, the family approached the station and wanted to share the story in hopes of helping other victims.