Friday March 8, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A Brattleboro man was sentenced Thursday to serve up to 13 years behind bars after admitting to lewd and lascivious conduct with a child.

But Hector Vargas, 26, may spend far less time in prison if he successfully completes sex-offender treatment. His minimum sentence is 28 months, and he has credit for time already served in jail.

During a sentencing hearing Thursday morning in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, Judge David Suntag told Vargas that his conduct will determine the duration of his prison stay.

"If you don’t take the treatment seriously, and they think you still pose a risk, they’re not going to let you out," Suntag said.

On April 30, Brattleboro police responded to a local school to investigate a report that a student had been sexually assaulted the previous weekend.

The Reformer does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

The victim told police that Vargas approached her on Flat Street and asked whether she wanted to smoke marijuana. She agreed, and they took a walk.

But at some point, police said, Vargas tried to take off both his and the victim’s clothing. She eventually was able to fend off Vargas and fled to a friend’s house, authorities said.

Vargas initially was charged with sexual assault of a victim less than 16 years old. In October, he pleaded guilty to lewd/lascivious conduct, contributing to delinquency of a minor and a probation violation.

At the time of last year’s incident, Vargas was on probation. He had been sentenced in 2008 to serve four to five years in prison -- with all of that sentence suspended except for eight months -- for selling drugs and aiding in the commission of a felony.

David Gartenstein, Windham County deputy state’s attorney, referenced Vargas’ criminal history during Thursday’s court proceeding.

"He knew the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Corrections knew him," Gartenstein said.

Vargas’ plea agreement in the latest case includes counseling inside prison walls as well as "intensive, group-based treatment upon release from prison," Gartenstein said.

At the time of Vargas’ guilty plea, the victim’s mother had expressed concern about the proposed sentence. Gartenstein said he immediately initiated discussions with the victim’s family.

"I think, based upon these communications, the family is in favor of that plea agreement," he said.

Attorney Christopher Montgomery, representing Vargas, said his client "had a terrible upbringing -- downright abusive."

Nonetheless, Vargas "accepts responsibility and acknowledges what he did," Montgomery said.

Vargas also made a brief statement before Suntag imposed his sentence.

"I strongly apologize to the family. I know what I did was wrong," Vargas said. "I’m ready to move forward with the program and whatever it takes to help myself."

Suntag acknowledged that Vargas has had consistent support from his family, and he thanked the defendant for accepting responsibility for his crime.

But Suntag added: "No matter what, you can’t do what you did here. Nothing excuses this."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.