Basalt man receives probation on attempted sexual assault charge

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

A Basalt man was sentenced Wednesday in Pitkin County District Court to four years of intensive sex-offender probation following his guilty plea in May to attempted sexual assault on a child.

According to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office report, John M. Cerise, 45, admitted to improper activity with a girl younger than 15 before he was arrested in December. The abuse occurred between October 2010 and September 2013, an investigator wrote in the report.

Cerise apologized for his actions in front of Judge Gail Nichols just prior to sentencing. Along with the intensive probation, he received a four-year deferred judgment on the felony charge.

“What I did was a huge mistake,” he said. “It was totally inappropriate. I’m sorry, and I’ll never ever do it again.”

Nichols denied prosecutor Andrea Bryan’s request to give Cerise 90 days of jail time. In making her ruling, she noted that a pre-sentencing report by the state Probation Office noted that Cerise is not a sexual deviant and that he has a low risk of repeating the offense. She also acknowledged that he was cooperative throughout the investigation and the process that led to guilty plea.

However, Nichols said she agreed with Bryan that Cerise and his supporters, as well as the victim’s family, had tried to minimize the incidents to an extent. The judge said it was important for everyone to understand that his conduct will have “a lifelong impact on this child.”

Cerise lives an isolated life on a local ranch, according to his attorney, Richard Cummins, of Aspen. He told Nichols that giving Cerise jail time, and keeping him separated from work and family, would be a punitive measure without purpose.

Cummins noted that Cerise had no previous criminal record.

Cerise has led an existence largely insulated from mainstream society, the criminal defense attorney said. He did not intend to harm the victim and believed that he had “a connection” with her.

Cerise also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in relation to the case. Nichols sentenced him to four years of supervised probation on that charge, to run concurrently with the felony count.