Family therapist convicted of sex crimes against child takes plea deal of 6 months in jail

Sep 8, 2023, 6:32 AM | Updated: 6:32 am

Atkin Sunset Therapy...

Atkin Sunset Therapy

PROVO, Utah – A Utah family therapist still has a license to practice social work, despite being convicted of a sex crime against a 14-year-old girl.  

The Department of Professional Licensing tells KSL it will now seek to have Kayla Atkin voluntarily surrender her license, which has remained active for more than a year after she was charged. 

“Should she not agree to surrender then we take agency action to revoke,” said Melanie Hall, spokesperson for DOPL.  

Atkin, who owns Sunset Therapy Services in Draper, was initially charged with three counts of aggravated sex abuse of a child in July of 2022. The charges stemmed from abuse that occurred in 2014 when Atkin was the assistant coach of a traveling softball team. In April 2023, as part of a deal with prosecutors, Atkin pleaded guilty to one count of Attempted Object Rape. She was sentenced Wednesday to spend 180 days in jail – a sentence the victim, prosecutors and even the judge say was too light.  

“Bait and switch” 

Attempted object rape, a first-degree felony charge, carried a potential prison sentence of three-years-to-life. However, prosecutors recommended no prison time as part of the plea deal, instead agreeing to a 6-month jail sentence that Atkin would be allowed to serve on weekends.  

Judge Robert Lunnen bound himself to the agreement in April but in court Wednesday said, “In my mind this was inappropriate now that I know the whole facts of the case.”  

“I feel like I’ve had a bait and switch here and I’m a little upset about this whole case,” Lunnen also said. “It’s frustrating to me to sit here and realize this is not really what the parties wanted.”  

A change in prosecutors earlier this year brought Julia Thomas onto the case after the plea deal was reached with the defense. In court, Thomas told the judge the victim in the case had agreed with the deal but “was not happy about it.”  

Lunnen said the plea had been represented to him in a way that led him to believe all parties were happy.  

“As I consider these pleas, one of the biggest things I consider is, are they making this plea because they’ve had a conversation with the victim in the case and the victim has indicated, ‘I don’t want to take the stand and I’m happy to do this plea.’ And that was what I thought had occurred in this case. It sounded to me like no one wanted to go forward with a trial. I wish now as I look back that someone would have spoken up,” he said.  

Lunnen said the case had taught him a lesson.  

“I feel partially responsible,” he said. “Maybe I should have asked the victim a little more in our first hearing whether or not she truly wanted to go through with this plea. I couldn’t guess. I should have asked. I should have asked and said, ‘Are you going through with this because you don’t want to go to trial?’ And I didn’t, and I feel ashamed myself for not having inquired further into this case.”  

“You got a really nice deal” 

The victim in the case stood in court Wednesday and read a statement directed at Atkin, expressing her feelings about how her case ended.  

“I felt rushed into this plea agreement and still feel a great sense of hesitancy,” she said. “All things considered, you got a really nice deal.” 

To the judge, the victim said, “My sincerest hope is that Kayla’s plea agreement is enough to protect another innocent child from the shattering devastation that sexual abuse brings.”  

“It makes you a predator” 

After listening to statements from the victim, a teammate, the victim’s mother and Atkin herself, Judge Lunnen handed down a 15-years-to-life in prison sentence, suspended in exchange for the 6-month jail sentence agreed upon in the plea deal. Atkin will also spend 10 years on probation.  

Conditions of that probation will prohibit her from having any contact with minors, a point Judge Lunnen drove home with an impassioned statement to Atkin. 

“It just is disgusting to me that you would tell a minor that you love them and want to marry them. And I believe her in this case that that’s exactly what you told her,” Lunnen said. “And that doesn’t make it an excuse, it makes you a predator and I’m telling you now if you violate any condition of your probation I will send you to prison for 15-to-life. This statement that this was a light deal is right. It was.“ 

Atkin Sunset Therapy

A website and Facebook page for Sunset Therapy Services were taken offline Thursday, the day after Atkin’s sentencing. Her profile remains active on Monarch.com, an online service connecting patients with therapists nationwide. She was ordered to report to jail on Saturday.  

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Family therapist convicted of sex crimes against child takes plea deal of 6 months in jail