Even though a Ferrysburg man is going to prison for at least three years, the victim said she feels like she lost, because it should have been for much longer.
On the other side of the courtroom Monday, Kyle Clayton Christianson’s family members cried as he was taken away in chains, surprised that he was going to be behind bars for that long.
Following a three-day bench trial in late January, 20-year-old Christianson was convicted of kidnapping his former girlfriend, assaulting her and trying to strangle her. But because of Christianson’s clean criminal record, employment and his recovery from depression while in jail, Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing said he was deviating from the minimum 50-month prison term when handing down the sentence.
“Me, personally, I’m really surprised it was deviated,” said Christianson’s former girlfriend and victim, Journey Kopka.
The 18-year-old Grand Haven woman asked Hulsing to sentence Christianson to the full 15 years when she gave her victim statement at Monday’s hearing.
“I was kidnapped this last August by my ex-boyfriend, Kyle Christianson,” she said in her statement. “I was taken against my will, assaulted, strangled and (there was) weapon-to-skin contact with a felonious weapon.”
Kopka said Christianson’s “true personality” emerged after a year of dating.
“I was subjected to an abusive, controlling relationship,” she said. “I lost all privileges.”
The teen said she was condemned for what she wore, how she styled her hair and who her friends were.
“I became the girl you see on TV shows, who was stuck in a toxic relationship with no voice, no way out,” Kopka said. “I used to mock that girl, until I watched myself slowly turn into her. Covering up the bruises, lying about marks and scared of every next move — all because my life was constantly threatened.”
The charges stemmed from an incident on Aug. 27, 2013, when Kopka went missing with Christianson for two hours. She returned to her Grand Haven home that night disheveled and distraught, and telling her parents that “he took me.”
Kopka testified that Christianson forced her into his car and drove to random spots, including a couple of fast-food restaurants where she tried signaling for help, but was too afraid to say anything because of Christianson’s controlling behavior.
Christianson, who also threatened suicide, eventually returned Kopka to her home that night. He was arrested later that night and charged with operating while impaired.
The operating while impaired charge was dismissed on Monday when Christianson took advantage of a deal to plead guilty to a minor with an unlawful blood-alcohol level. Judge Craig Bunce sentenced him to pay a $785 fine or serve 78 days in jail.
Christianson has already served six months in jail, so he will receive credit for the time served.
His attorney, Rob German, said the jail time was a “blessing in disguise” because the effects of the attention deficit disorder medications he was taking at the time left his system.
“That feeling of anxiety, agitation and the other feelings associated with (the medication) slowly subsided,” German said. “That played a significant role in his way of dealing with things.”
Hulsing noted in his sentencing decision that the defendant becoming “emotionally stable” had an impact on the length of his sentence.
German said the sentence was reasonable given the gravity of the situation. The attorney said he hopes Christianson will take this benefit and turn it into something positive.
“I think Kyle will do that,” German said. “He’s a bright young man.”
Kopka said she is grateful to have at least 36 months to recover from the relationship.
She said since her abduction, she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has been experiencing panic attacks, flashbacks, insomnia and nausea. A week before the trial in January, she said she became very depressed and ended up undergoing in-patient care on suicide watch.
Kopka said she is improving.
“The only grip of sanity I have is knowing I am safe now,” she said. “Kyle can no longer get to me.”