BRATTLEBORO -- In recent Windham County bank-robbery cases, perpetrators have been sentenced to no fewer than four years in prison.
Nathaniel Kautz’s minimum sentence for last year’s holdup of TD Bank in downtown Brattleboro amounts to just half of that.
But officials cited the 29-year-old Brattleboro man’s history of personal trauma, mental illness and substance abuse as mitigating factors. And Judge John Wesley on Tuesday also imposed a maximum sentence of 10 years, which Kautz could end up serving if he gets into further trouble.
"This new clarity that you’ve found in your life has to be maintained," Wesley told Kautz in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division. "The price for not maintaining it will be going back to jail."
Police said Kautz walked into the Main Street bank at about 8:15 a.m. April 21, 2012, and handed a teller a note declaring that he had a gun and demanding cash. He left the bank with more than $2,000 but was taken into custody later that day. When executing a search warrant on Kautz’s apartment, police found heroin, resulting in a possession charge in addition to the bank-robbery case.
Last month, Kautz pleaded guilty to heroin possession and no contest to grand larceny. The defense and prosecution had agreed to a two-year minimum prison sentence, so the only issue to be decided at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing was the maximum sentence -- anywhere between eight and 10 years.
Windham County Deputy State’s Attorney David Gartenstein argued for the 10-year maximum. He pointed out that, for the three men who recently pleaded guilty to bank robberies in Windham County, minimum prison sentences ranged from four to eight years and maximum sentences ranged from eight to 30 years.
"Both for punitive purposes and for long-term supervision purposes, these are crimes that have to be taken very, very seriously," Gartenstein said. "There’s obviously a substantial risk that arises when somebody goes in and decides they’re going to rob a bank."
Gartenstein also pointed to the impact on the teller in Kautz’s robbery.
"This was, in fact, the second bank robbery that she had been a victim of at TD Bank at this location. And she was significantly traumatized by the events," Gartenstein said. "In fact, she’s now left this profession and is doing other work because she couldn’t continue withstanding that risk ... of this type of crime and threat to her person."
At the same time, Gartenstein noted that Kautz -- who was declared competent to stand trial -- has dealt with long-term personal issues.
"There are factors that led the state to agree to a significantly lower minimum term of incarceration in this case," he said. "Those factors go to the mental-health and related substance-abuse issues with which the defendant has been struggling, we understand, for many, many years."
Kautz’s attorney, Joanne Baltz, noted her client’s mental-health issues and said there are "holes" in his recollection of the robbery.
"Clearly, there were some hallucinations and delusions that were occurring -- for what reason, we’re not really sure," Baltz said. But she also said Kautz has improved while incarcerated and is a "completely different person" than he was at his arraignment shortly after the robbery.
Baltz requested the eight-year maximum sentence and reasoned that, even if Kautz was released after serving the two-year minimum, he still would be subject to another six years of court supervision.
"With those structures in place, I think that Nathaniel can make it on the outside," she said.
Kautz then rose to speak quietly and briefly, saying he was "remorseful" for the bank heist.
"I wish I could take back this day and everything that happened," Kautz said.
Wesley agreed that "living under correctional supervision may prove to be constructive" for Kautz. But he imposed the 10-year maximum sentence that Gartenstein had requested, saying Kautz’s record makes his future conduct difficult to predict.
"Not much is certain, especially against your background," Wesley told Kautz. "You have a very tumultuous history for a young man up until this point."
Wesley also said Kautz’s actions -- including writing a note and predicting how much cash he could get -- showed planning and calculation prior to the robbery.
"There was forethought. There was analysis," the judge said. "There was rationality that was at work here."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.