Ashley White is a victim turned victor.
On Tuesday, the 11-year-old Provo girl - dressed in blue jeans, a T-shirt, tennis shoes and red nail polish - testified before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole in an effort to keep the man who sexually assaulted her behind bars.Eugene Swenson, Ashley's grandfather, is serving a life sentence in state prison for the abuse, which took place between September 1993 and May 1994. In a 1994 plea agreement, Swenson pleaded guilty to sodomy on a child, a first-degree felony, and aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a second-degree felony.
It was Swenson's first appearance before the parole board, which has the power to either parole the 69-year-old Swenson or reduce his total prison sentence. A decision will be made sometime in the next three weeks, said board chairman Mike Sibbett, who presided over the hearing.
Just before the hearing, Ashley seemed cheerful and strong.
"I want him in the room. I want to talk to him," she said pointedly to the bailiff, who asked if she wanted the man who sexually assaulted her to be in the room when she testified against him.
But when Swenson walked into the room flanked by corrections officers, Ashley dissolved into tears and reached for a hug from her mother, Susan White.
During the hearing, Swenson admitted to having abused two granddaughters and one grandson. He also acknowledged that over a period of 40 years, there had been instances of abuse with other family members. During the time of the abuse he said he had no regard or understanding of what he was doing to the children.
But he continues to deny any wrongdoing with Ashley.
"The only thing I ever did was when she was laying on the floor with her little cousin and her behind was exposed, I bent down and kissed her on the rump," said Swenson, his speech quickening. "That was the only abuse I ever did to her and she knows it."
That's not true, Ashley said. In a letter to the board, she outlined the details of the abuse and threats her grandfather inflicted upon her. The letter, Sibbett assured her, was one he had read repeatedly and one he believed.
Ashley's testimony Tuesday was brief and specific.
"All these years he's been calling me a liar," she said firmly. "He's the liar, I'm not a liar. And as far as I'm concerned, he was never my grandpa."
During his three years in prison, Swenson said he has participated in therapy programs for sex offenders that he believes has helped him to understand the severity of his crimes.
Outside the state prison after the hearing, however, Ashley said she didn't think her grandfather would ever get the help he needed. Her hope, she said, is that he never gets out of prison.
She also wants to be an example for others who are suffering from abuse. That's why she decided to tell her story publicly and testify against her grandfather.
"I want kids in America, anyone who is being abused, I want them to know it's OK to tell," she said.
"I told and it stopped."