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Former Mercer Island youth theater director gets 6 months for sexual assaults

The Island’s former youth theater director will spend the first half of next year in the county jail after a judge sentenced him for sexually assaulting the teenage daughters of his former girlfriend.

Last Friday afternoon at the King County courthouse in Seattle, Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell also ruled that Benjamin Keylin, 58, an Island resident and former executive of Youth Theatre Northwest, must refrain from contact with minors, including his victims and his own teenage daughter while on two years of probation. Keylin will also submit a DNA test for state records and undergo sexual deviancy treatment. He lost both his right to vote and his teaching certificate.

The judge said that he decided to increase the prosecutor’s recommended sentence of three months to six but offered the option of work release, which would allow Keylin to be hired and work during weekdays, though he would be required to return to his jail cell every evening and weekend. Money earned would help pay for his restitution for the victims’ counseling, the attorney said.

Originally charged with rape in the third degree and inappropriate communication with a minor, Keylin pleaded guilty to two counts of assault in October. One of the charges is a felony. He was arrested nearly one year ago at his Island condo following allegations of rape and inappropriate touching of two sisters.

The prosecuting attorney said that the state sought the plea deal to prevent the victims from the additional trauma of a difficult trial and that she had spoken to both teens at length.

“The thing most important was that he be held responsible, to be responsible for what he did,” said the prosecuting attorney, Julie Kays, of her talks with the family on the reasoning for a plea bargain.

The older victim spoke before the judge issued his sentence, saying that visiting Mercer Island made her uncomfortable because she knows that Keylin lives there, and she was trying to shut out the memories of the alleged rape that occurred in his condo.

“Sometimes, I can hear him saying something to me, something inappropriate,” the victim said. “I feel people can take advantage of me and not know it.”

Keylin will remain free until Jan. 5, the date when the judge ordered him to turn himself into custody.

In 1992, Keylin was accused of committing a similar sexual assault and was arrested on attempted rape charges. His then-girlfriend’s niece told police that Keylin had attacked her back stage at a concert he had taken her to. He entered an Alford plea for an assault charge. An Alford plea does not admit guilt but recognizes that there is sufficient evidence for a jury to convict. Keylin served several days in jail.

In court on Friday, the victims and her parents said that their relationships with each other have suffered as well. The father said that his two daughters would continue to struggle with the rest of their lives. He also said that he thinks his younger daughter — a person he characterized as an idealist — may not graduate high school and has run away from home.

“Fulfilling her dreams will be more difficult,” he said of the effects that the sexual assaults had on her. “[Keylin] caused a riff with her mother and my younger daughter that might never heal.”

The father also said he was disgusted that he saw a picture of Keylin in a local newspaper with U.S. Senator Tom Daschle about providing youth and family services earlier this fall.

“That was extremely bad taste — the worse judgment. Benjamin is sick and he needs help. But he also needs to be punished,” the victim’s father told the judge.

Keylin said that he “should have known better” regarding the sexual assaults and he exercised poor judgement in his decision making. He also said that he has spent the past year in intensive counseling, including sessions with a Rabbi, and that had “truly helped him.”

“I have been able to find a spiritual path I did not previously have,” Keylin said.

During his remarks to the judge, he turned and faced the victims and family in the back of the courtroom. He apologized and said he wished that he “could turn back the clock.” He also said he cries every day for his daughter because she felt that he had abandoned her through these actions.

“I don’t even know if she will ever have it in her heart to forgive me,” he said of his teenage daughter.

“[Keylin] took advantage of all of us,” said the victims’ mother, his former girlfriend. “We were duped by [Keylin]. This is a blemish in our lives.”

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