Portland, Ore.—Oct. 12
Outside the 13th floor of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, overlooking the Portland, Oregon, skyline, laughter and nervous chatter echoed through the marble lobby. Rich Fellers, the Olympic show jumper who in July pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his underage student, greeted family and friends with bear hugs and quick kisses as he awaited a federal judge’s decision on his prison sentence.
Inside the courtroom, before U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut arrived, Fellers stood to acknowledge his two rows of upbeat supporters with a thumbs up.
Their mood changed with Immergut’s entrance into the courtroom. By the time she told Fellers, “You basically stole the innocence of a child,” it seemed a distant memory.
Fellers is now in federal custody. On the joint recommendation of Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Zusman and Fellers’ attorney, Mike De Muniz, Immergut sentenced Fellers to 50 months in federal prison and five years of supervised release. He will be placed on both federal and state sex offender lists.
Fellers, 63, of Sherwood, Oregon, was initially arrested in June 2021 on four counts of felony sexual abuse of his then 17-year-old student Maggie Kehring. (Editor’s note: While the Chronicle does not typically name victims of sexual assault, Kehring chose to come forward in 2021 to discuss her experience, and since then her family has become a driving force behind #WeRideTogether, an organization dedicated to stopping sexual abuse within horse sports.)
He changed his plea from not guilty to guilty in July as part of a deal that will allow Fellers to serve time in federal prison, which he wanted to do instead of going to state prison. Although attorneys involved in the case initially discussed him being sent to a medium-security prison in Sheridan, Oregon, Fellers instead will serve time at a minimum-security federal prison in Littleton, Colorado.
Fellers’ original not-guilty plea was “standard course,” his attorney said Thursday in court, claiming that his client did, in fact, take responsibility for his actions shortly after his arrest.
De Muniz also condemned the “backlash” Kehring experienced from the horse world as a result of coming forward after Fellers and his ex-wife, Shelley Fellers, were initially suspended by the U.S. Center for Safe Sport in February 2021.
Kehring chose not to attend the sentencing, but she requested that Zusman read a victim statement on her behalf. In that statement she said that Fellers, who had coached her from ages 14 to 17, had been “larger than life to me in my childhood” with “unquestionable ethics.” His standing, both in regards to her own family, and to the larger horse world, meant that she “trusted him with many hours of her childhood,” which he manipulated in order to abuse her. When she did eventually come forward, she said, her longtime trainer “threw me to the wolves.”
Fellers’ attorney acknowledged the statement, which Fellers had also read before sentencing, as “true and sincere.”
Fellers also made a statement, in which he took responsibility for the pain that he had caused the victim and his own community.
“I just want to apologize to the victim, her family, my precious family and friends,” Fellers said, pausing mid-sentence to choke back tears.
Fellers described the growth he has made in learning “how to communicate” during his 23 sessions of sex offender treatment.
“I offer no excuses,” Fellers said. “My actions caused so much pain for her.”
In her statement, Kehring requested that the judge demand that Fellers be incarcerated immediately following sentencing, which would have meant him leaving the courtroom in handcuffs. The federal attorney, while wanting to be “sensitive” to the victim’s request, suggested that Fellers’ surrender be deferred until a final court date on Oct. 27 in Washington County, Oregon, for the convenience of the U.S. Marshals Service, which is currently short-staffed.
De Muniz requested that his client’s incarceration be postponed, but not the full period before his state court date, as surrendering at his state trial would require Fellers to go into state custody against his preference.
Before delivering her decision on sentencing, Immergut said she appreciated that Fellers’ family and friends had shown up to support him, and she acknowledged the work he had done to date in sex offender treatment. She observed that he seemed to be remorseful, but reminded the courtroom and Fellers that his offense was “abuse of monumental proportion.”
Fellers nodded along as Immergut looked him in the eye, reminding him of the gravity of abusing his power over his student. He took advantage, the judge told him, of the way that a child had looked up to her coach.
Immergut agreed to the proposed 50-month sentence, to be served in the Colorado prison, where Fellers can participate in its sex offender treatment program. He is expected to receive a 30-month concurrent sentence in state court on Oct. 27. Immergut also agreed to De Muniz’s request that Fellers be allowed to voluntarily surrender, rather than be handcuffed in the courtroom and removed by marshals.
“I do think Mr. Fellers should be taken into custody today,” she said.
Immergut gave Fellers’ a noon deadline to voluntarily surrender, allowing him an hour and a half to say goodbye to his friends and family, including his ex-wife, his two grown children and his parents, who were in attendance.