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June 1, 2020

Jamie Taylor/river news

John Donato talks with his attorney Elizabeth Svehlek prior to the start of his hearing in Oneida County Circuit Court Tuesday morning, Feb. 11, 2020.
Jamie Taylor/river news

John Donato talks with his attorney Elizabeth Svehlek prior to the start of his hearing in Oneida County Circuit Court Tuesday morning, Feb. 11, 2020.
2/15/2020 7:30:00 AM
Rhinelander man receives jail sentence for inappropriate touching

Jamie Taylor
River News Reporter

A 68-year-old Rhinelander man convicted of molesting two girls in the Rhinelander Walmart store in 2016, and inappropriately touching a young female clerk in another local store last September, pled no contest Tuesday to reduced charges and was sentenced to nine months in jail.

John J. Donato was charged with two counts of 4th degree sexual assault stemming from an incident in the Rhinelander Kohl's store on Sept. 10 where he groped a sales clerk.

In exchange for his plea, assistant district attorney Mary Sowinski withdrew her motion to revoke Donato's a deferred entry of judgement on a felony charge of causing mental harm to a child in connection with his 2016 conviction for inappropriately touched two young girls in the school supplies section of Walmart. He was also on 10 years probation on a count of second degree sexual assault of a child from the same case.

The global agreement saw Sowinski withdraw her motion to reinstate proceedings in the 2016 case, extending the probation until 2027 and the DEJ until 2025. One count of fourth degree sexual assault was dismissed.

Both Sowinski and Donato's attorney Elizabeth Svehlek jointly recommended 9 months in jail for the remaining misdemeanor with credit for 147 days already served. This will give his probation agent time to find Donato transitional housing until his Social Security starts again, it was noted.

"It will also allow him to get into sex offender treatment, and she (the agent) isn't opposed to electronic monitoring for him," Sowinski said, adding that the monitoring is dependent on approval from Madison.

She also said that because of medical conditions Donato isn't eligible for placement in the residential treatment programs in the area.

As part of the agreement, Donato is banned from ever going on Walmart or Kohl's property again.

Sowinski said Donato's advanced age and loneliness is leading to his actions, but he has to understand that unwanted sexual contact won't be tolerated.

"He needs to learn that that is not acceptable and he will go to prison if he keeps doing it," she said.

Svehlek pointed to her client's health problems, saying he would receive proper treatment for those, along with counseling for his aberrant behavior, outside of prison.

Donato apologized for his actions and the effect it has had on his victims.

Judge Patrick O'Melia agreed with Sowinski's assessment that this is the last conviction where Donato isn't heading to prison.

"You still can't go around touching people when they don't want you to," O'Melia said. "You understand that? Can you see how that would upset anybody?"

Donato responded in the affirmative to both questions.

O'Melia then accepted the global resolution and sentenced Donato along the guidelines presented by Sowinski and Svehlek.

"The good thing about this case is he is going to be monitored extensively," O'Melia noted.

O'Melia reminded Donato that the DEJ will still be hanging over his head until 2025, which could result in him being sent to prison for up to 12 1/2 years if revoked.

"And if there is any hiccups in this, they (DA's office) will move to rescind, and I don't care what the probation case does, you will go to prison on the deferred entry of judgement," the judge said.

As a part of the terms of the conviction in the 2016, Donato must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews

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