Superior Court Judge Leila Kern sentenced Doyle on Monday to five years of probation - but no jail time - for child endangerment. She also sentenced him to 21/2 years in jail for intimidating a witness in the case but suspended all but a year of it. Doyle will be eligible for parole in six months.
Doyle, 42, of Salem was one of several defendants in a horrific child abuse case in which Mary Jean Armstrong of Beverly is accused of allowing two men to have sexual access to her child in exchange for cocaine. Doyle was not charged with raping the child himself but with doing nothing to assist the girl while another man raped her a few feet away from him.
Kern said on Monday that in deciding on a sentence, she contrasted Doyle's behavior - engaging in sex with the girl's mother and another woman while the girl was being raped - with that of the other defendants in the case.
But others say that, even so, the sentence is too lenient.
State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, said he generally hesitates to second-guess judges, "but it just seems that the sentence was completely inappropriate for the offenses that occurred."
He now wants to introduce legislation that would increase penalties for those convicted of child endangerment.
Under the law - created less than five years ago in response to the priest sexual abuse crisis - the maximum penalty for child endangerment, a misdemeanor, is 21/2 years in jail.
"I'm not sure it ever contemplated this circumstance," said Tarr, who said the statute was responding to administrative or bureaucratic failures to respond to child abuse - not a situation in which the defendant helped create the abuse, as another judge found last year in the Doyle case.
Deborah Savoia of North Andover, a victims' rights advocate, said she was stunned by the sentence, calling it "a disgrace."
"Once again it shows that we do not value our children in this state," Savoia said. "We don't take this seriously; lawmakers don't make it a priority. Children are literally being killed, and someone needs to wake up."
Yet she is skeptical of calls for new legislation, saying lawmakers have been slow to deal with the problem and have sat on legislation like "Jessica's Law," which would increase penalties and establish mandatory sentences for child molesters.
"You know how long it took us to get Level 3 sex offenders on the Internet?" she said.
Dan Moniz of Hamilton, a victims' rights advocate who has worked with the families of missing and exploited children, called the sentence "appalling."
"It's a slap on the wrist," said Moniz, who said the sentence sends the wrong message. "What was she thinking?
"Unfortunately, it takes a situation like this to say, ding, maybe we've got to look at this (law) again."
William Fallon, a former Essex County prosecutor who specialized in child sexual abuse cases, acknowledged that, "At first blush, you're kind of taken aback."
But Fallon said he could see the judge concluding that Doyle was significantly less culpable than his co-defendants. Richard Lapham, who pleaded guilty to multiple child rape charges, is serving 15 to 18 years in prison. Richard L'Italien, who is facing charges from a single sexual encounter with the girl, and the girl's mother, Armstrong, have not yet resolved their cases.
"I'm generally more concerned that child rapists and child molesters do not get high enough sentences," Fallon said.
And he said he could see a concern about forcing the case to go to trial.
"It's rare that it's beneficial for a child to go through the trial," said Fallon, who participated in hundreds of interviews of sexual abuse victims when he was a prosecutor.
"We should view things as looking at what's best for everyone involved. It sounds to me like this judge tried to make a thoughtful decision."