Benny Bridges

CHIPPEWA FALLS — A rural Chippewa Falls man who previously served a four-year prison sentence for a 2001 sex assault was ordered Monday to serve another four-year prison sentence after he sexually assaulted a woman at an area hotel in January 2017.

Benny J. Bridges, 50, 11889 N. 15th Ave., was convicted last week in Chippewa County Court of third-degree sexual assault. He was originally charged with second-degree sexual assault of an intoxicated victim, which carries up to 25 years in prison.

According to the criminal complaint, a 25-year-old woman said she was at a hotel in the town of Wheaton on Jan. 11, 2017, when she woke up to discover Bridges on top of her and sexually touching her. The woman said she was naked and didn’t recall disrobing. The victim didn’t attend the hearing.

Judge Steve Gibbs ordered the prison sentence, saying drug problems lead to other crimes such as this sexual assault. The sentence is consecutive to one Bridges is already serving.

“Our community is being overrun by the methamphetamine epidemic. It is hitting every part of our community,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs also ordered four years of extended supervision, saying a lengthy period was required.

“When you are out being supervised, you don’t have a good record either,” Gibbs said.

Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell asked for the maximum penalty of five years in prison and five years of extended supervision, consecutive to a sentence he is already serving.

“Because he is previously convicted of a second-degree sexual assault, he was facing a mandatory minimum of 3½ years,” Newell told Gibbs.

Newell said Bridges has been in and out of incarceration over the past decade because he has violated probation.

“The defendant has a significant history beyond these two matters,” Newell told Gibbs. The convictions include burglary, drunken driving, possessing marijuana and battery.

Defense attorney Robert Thorson pointed out that his client had entered an Alford Plea, meaning Bridges contests some elements of the charge but acknowledges the state has enough evidence to find him guilty. Thorson contended there was some confusion over exactly what happened, but a reasonably jury could find Bridges guilty.

“He’s sorry for anything that occurred in this situation,” Thorson said. “He understands he has to pay some consequence.”

Thorson sought three years in prison and three years extended supervision, but concurrent to Bridges’ ongoing sentence.

Bridges told Gibbs he hopes to continue working on his sobriety.

“I do understand my addiction to meth and alcohol and other drugs have played a big role in my behavior,” Bridges told Gibbs. “I wish today that I’d get that help.”

Online court records show Bridges was convicted in 2002 of second-degree sexual assault, and was ordered to serve four years in prison and six years of extended supervision. Newell said that case had similarities to this one, as the victim in that matter also was unconscious at the time.