The words stuck in his throat. DA Bryce Shields was telling Judge Jim Shirley why David Lavern Tarbert deserved prison rather than probation.

“This is not a probation case,” he said. The DA, a father of young children, has held the office since 2015.

On Sept. 4, 2019, the court arraigned Tarbert on charges of sex assault and lewd conduct with children. The victims are Tarbert’s grandchildren, ages three, four and seven at the time of the abuse. 

In a negotiated settlement, Tarbert, 62, pleaded guilty to one count of lewdness with a child and no-contest to another count. He pleaded guilty to a third offense, paddling his grandsons hard enough to cause bruising.

According to court records, the crime took place over an extended period when the children were under Tarbert’s care.

On Monday, the defendant returned to court for sentencing. Attorney Joe Laub, of Reno, asked Judge Shirley to grant two years of probation on each count.

Tarbert accepted the judge’s offer of hearing amplification. He appeared pale and anxious, sometimes shaking his head in seeming disbelief as people spoke about his offenses. Several family members came to court to give victim impact statements.

Laub noted his client had been in custody for 358 days. Recently, he suffered a heart attack.

DA Shields disagreed with Laub’s recommendation.

“Judge Shirley, the defendant had the opportunity to protect, nurture and teach his grandchildren,” he said. “Rather than do those things, he abused them for his own sexual gratification.” 

Shields spoke about the impact of the crime on the victims. 

“Victim one is angry all the time. Victim three tried to convince himself nothing happened. Victim two is in a constant state of panic,” he said. At this point, Shields found it difficult to continue.

“This is not about him,” he concluded, gesturing towards the defendant. “It’s about justice for those three children.”

The DA deviated from the recommendation of the Division of Parole and Probation. They recommended 30 to 96 months in prison. Shields asked for consecutive sentences of four to 20 years for each of the three counts.

Tarbert asked the judge for probation.

“People make mistakes,” he said. “I made one, apparently. I think I should get a second chance. I’m worried about my wife. She’s disabled. I’m dying slowly, and I’d like to spend what little time I do have left with my wife. I’m a good person.”

“There’s no probation here,” said the judge. “You’re going to spend time in prison. Based on everything I’ve read in the PSI and the recommendations, I’m not giving probation in this case.”

Tarbert looked baffled by the descriptions of his actions against the children. “I did paddle the young man,” he said. “But I didn’t beat him.” 

A common thread ran through the victim impact statements, DA’s arguments and Tarbert’s psychosexual evaluation.

“He’s shown no remorse or acknowledgment that what he put these kids through was wrong,” said the DA.

“I’m not going to let you maintain innocence in the courtroom,” the judge admonished. “You can’t plead guilty at your arraignment and then come back and tell us you didn’t do it.”

Next, the Clerk of the Court, Carol Elerick, swore in several adult family members. Each described changes in the children’s behavior over time. 

“How many hours, days, weeks months or years did Mr. Tarbert harm these children for his own sexual pleasure?” asked one family member. “You don’t just become a pedophile overnight.”

While her father sat shackled at the wrists and waist waiting to hear his fate, the mother of the victims read a statement from each child.

“You’ve made my life so hard to understand,” wrote one. “I have anger issues and get in trouble at school.”

“You beat me like you hated me,” said the second child. “What did we do to deserve it?” asked the third. “I hope you learn to be nice. I can’t even go to school now, but I’ll be okay once I get this closure.”

The judge sentenced Tarbert to three consecutive prison terms. He’ll serve 48-150 months for count one, attempted lewdness with a child under 14.

“I deviated upwards from the recommendation of Parole and Probation based upon the statements of the victims,” said the judge. 

Tarbert will serve 30-96 months for the second lewdness charge. He’ll do another 30-96 months for the paddling. When he gets out of prison, he must register as a sex offender.

In her statement, the young mother of three summed up her hopes for the future. She spoke directly to the her father.

“When you look at us for the last time, I hope you realize we are standing tall,” she said. “We are working hard every day to build the best life we can. We’re not going to give up. We’ll always press forward.”