SUMMIT, NJ - On Friday, October 9th, Ryan Vernotico, 21, of Summit, was sentenced to five years in prison for three counts of sexual assault against a minor. Vernotico will also face parole supervision for life and will be registered as a sex offender under Megan's Law, also for life.
A troubled youth, Ryan Vernotico was adopted by Michael and Joanne Vernotico who took him into their home to provide him with a loving, caring atmosphere. Ryan is bi-polar, has other mental issues and has a serious drinking problem. During the time period during which the sexual assaults took place, Ryan was not taking his medication to treat his bi-polar disease and was heavily drinking, said Mrs. Vernotico.
Ryan was charged with having sexual relations with underage girls when he was 20 and they were 15. According to Michael Vernotico, Ryan's father, the girls were not forthcoming about their age and Ryan did not know that they were underage. Michael Vernotico said, "if the girls were a few months older or Ryan was a few months younger, there would have been no crime committed under the law."
Michael Vernotico said that Ryan is "paying an enormous price for extreme indiscretion. He's not some monster." Mr. Vernotico continued, "Megan's Law is not meant to target kids like Ryan. It is meant to target sexual predators. This case is about a kid with some problems who didn't realize what he'd done." "Should Ryan have tried harder to find out their ages? Yes. Should he be punished? Yes. Is he a monster? No," Michael Vernotico added.
At the time of his arrest, Ryan was struggling at Union County College and about to fail out because of his drinking problem. He finally agreed to go into High Focus, an outpatient program to treat addiction to alcohol. Ryan had enrolled and attended his first session. Michael and Joanne Vernotico said that they were proud of Ryan and Ryan had committed himself to turning his life around. According to his parents, the next night, Ryan was arrested.
Ryan's mother, Joanne Vernotico, said that Ryan is "charming, social, has all kinds of problems and is very immature for his age." However, she said that Megan's Law is "to protect people but Ryan is not a predator." She added, "what happened to Ryan could happen to anybody. Ryan did not force himself on anyone. It was consensual." Joanne Vernotico said "people need to understand that today's society is moving too fast. Everyone wants to grow up and party and pass themselves off as older. It's a different world."
Regarding Ryan's conviction, Mrs. Vernotico said that Ryan admitted to the charges against him and pleaded guilty. She said "drinking was his downfall. It was always consensual. He did not want to and never hurt the girls involved." Mrs. Vernotico lamented, "My son is not a predator and now he's labeled for life. It's very sad. Ryan is not mean-spirited. That's not my son. He would never intentionally hurt anyone. The label is so tragic."
Mrs. Vernotico said that Megan's Law is needed but that it may need to be rethought. "Currently under the law, all that matters is the age of the participants. [What happened to Ryan] is not what Megan's Law was intended to do. However, it is what it is. It's the law."