Young Janesville man to be released from prison because of health condition

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Jonah Beleckis
Sunday, August 20, 2017

ELKHORN—When 24-year-old Kyle Knopes was sentenced in February to three years in prison, his lawyer said “it'll be a life sentence for him.”

Although the three-year sentence was a mandatory minimum for Knopes' conviction of child porn possession, his lawyer, Aileen Henry, called the prison term “cruel and unusual,” according to a transcript of the Feb. 16 sentencing hearing.

Knopes in 1994 was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare form of ALS that can cause progressive weakness and irreversible paralysis, according to a doctor's note submitted to the court.

Considering his deteriorating health in prison, Walworth County Judge Kristine Drettwan accepted the state Department of Corrections petition to release Knopes from prison and convert the remainder of his sentence to extended supervision, court records show.

Knopes, of Janesville, appeared at the Aug. 2 motion hearing via video from Dodge Correctional Institution.

District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld said last week that such sentence modification is “very infrequent.” The subject is usually raised because of medical issues, he said, but those most often involve older people.

Knopes' petition, consistent with state statutes, was verified by doctors and supported by the Department of Corrections, Wiedenfeld said.

Given Knopes' documented medical history, Wiedenfeld said the decision was not a surprise.

“Everyone knew if there was a point where the medical needs became too serious, this was an option that was available,” he said.

Law enforcement first caught on to Knopes after a sting operation against Jay Liestman of Eau Claire. Wiedenfeld said Liestman had condoms and lubricant when he attempted to meet up with a 14-year-old boy.

Liestman said he had been having contact with someone on the Kik messenger app named Emmitt Torres, who police later learned was Knopes, according to court documents.

On Sept. 17, 2013, Knopes, using the Torres account, sent Liestman three pictures of prepubescent boys exposing themselves or engaging in sexual acts, according to the criminal complaint.

Knopes later admitted searching for child porn “just about every day,” the complaint states. Police found 23 pictures and two videos during the investigation.

“He was an experienced person in the child pornography trade,” Wiedenfeld said in February.

Still, Drettwan and lawyers said Knopes, aside from his serious medical condition, lived a relatively normal and healthy life with a supportive family, according to court documents. He was a senior at UW-Whitewater at the time of the incident before he had to leave for medical reasons, Henry said.

Adriana Tobar, of SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital–Janesville, said in a Dec. 22 letter Knopes' condition was getting worse.

“Now he is struggling with worsening weakness and pain, having difficulty holding his head up,” Tobar wrote. ”He is unable to get up if he falls off his chair; his respiratory status unfortunately has also progressed, having more difficulty breathing than previously, secondary to progressive restrictive lung disease.”

His health needs require “round-the-clock” care, Tobar's letter reads.

Henry said in February that someone from the sheriff's office said “we are going to treat Mr. Knopes with the dignity that his parents would treat him with.”

Knopes, who was originally sentenced to three years in prison and three years of extended supervision, will now serve the rest of the six-year total at home.

For the next year, Knopes is not allowed to leave home for reasons other than medical or health-related appointments or for treatment, according to court records. He is not allowed to use computers or the internet.

Henry said in February that Knopes can't even use a computer because “he doesn't have the ability to use his hands anymore.”

Tobar estimated in a Feb. 9 letter that Knopes' life expectancy is less than two to five years.

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