Saturday May 4, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A Brattleboro man on Tuesday pleaded no contest to engaging in lewd and lascivious conduct with a child.

But Robert A. Chase, 51, does not yet know how much time he will serve in prison. That’s because his Vermont sentence will be identical to a sentence that will be imposed soon in federal court, where Chase has pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography.

"It is my understanding that the federal sentence will be scheduled sometime at the beginning of June," said David Gartenstein, Windham County deputy state’s attorney.

Brattleboro police had said Chase, in an April 2012 interview, acknowledged having inappropriate contact with a child.

That investigation also uncovered evidence that Chase possessed child pornography. Officials searched his home and reportedly discovered videos depicting child sexual abuse.

His computer also contained images of a young child -- photos that appeared to have been taken by Chase, police said.

Federal authorities prosecuted the pornography case. In January, Chase pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography.

On Tuesday in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, Chase entered a no-contest plea to one count of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. A second count was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Gartenstein said the plea "serves the interest of justice." Both he and Judge John Wesley also noted that the deal allows the victim to avoid testifying at a trial.

"It will avoid the need to cause trauma to the child who is the complaining witness in this case," Gartenstein said.

The agreement also calls for Chase’s state sentence to mirror his federal sentence. Those sentences will be served concurrently.

In the federal case, prosecutors have said the sentencing guidelines for Chase’s plea range from 97 to 120 months in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Masterson in January recommended a sentence of 97 months.

But she noted at the time that such guidelines are advisory, and there is no mandatory minimum.

For the state’s lewd/lascivious conduct charge, the statutory minimum sentence is two years and the maximum is 15 years.

Gartenstein and Joanne Baltz, Chase’s attorney, said they expect Chase to appear in Brattleboro for his state sentencing the day after he is sentenced in federal court.

"We’ll do our best to accommodate that schedule," Wesley said.

Chase has been behind bars since last summer and is being held without bail on the federal charge, officials said.

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