BRATTLEBORO -- Phillip Oren-Ibarra says he has turned to yoga, Buddhism and meditation during his nearly eight months in jail, and he believes he has learned to "choose a straighter line in life."
The Brattleboro man will have to adhere to that path in order to get out of jail and avoid going back after admitting on Thursday that he restrained and assaulted a woman in Westminster in December.
Oren-Ibarra, 32, pleaded guilty in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division to a felony count of unlawful restraint. On a misdemeanor count of domestic assault, he pleaded no contest because -- his attorney says -- Oren-Ibarra recalls only "bits and pieces" of the incident.
The victim, however, said she has no trouble recollecting an assault that she believes left her close to death.
"He choked me. I lost consciousness. It was terrible," the victim told Judge David Suntag just before Oren-Ibarra was sentenced to a minimum of 232 days and a maximum of three years, 10 months in prison.
"He doesn't remember. But I do," the victim added. "Unfortunately, it will take me a long time to not flash back on that."
State police said they were called to a Westminster home just before 10:30 p.m. Dec. 2. The victim told a dispatcher that Oren-Ibarra had entered the home with a knife and was threatening to kill himself.
Police also received word that the Oren-Ibarra had dragged the victim from a car as she was trying to escape.
When troopers arrived, Oren-Ibarra "immediately said, 'I'm not your guy,'" a police affidavit says. But police saw blood on his hand and took him into custody.
The victim had escaped and was being treated at a nearby intersection. The Reformer does not identify victims of domestic assault.
Police found damage to the front door and "blood in several rooms of the house to include the kitchen, living room and bathroom and on the rail of the staircase," court documents say.
In an interview at Springfield Hospital, the victim told police that an angry Oren-Ibarra had pinned her against cabinets and a couch and then grabbed her throat so that she couldn't breathe. The victim hit her head and, as she was choked, "thought she was going to die as she passed out, unconscious," the affidavit says.
When she awoke, Oren-Ibarra was "over top of her, dripping blood from his hand onto her face," court documents say. Oren-Ibarra allegedly told the victim that "one of us is going to die tonight."
There was another confrontation as the victim tried to escape, with Oren-Ibarra throwing rocks and reaching into her car as it rolled backward, police said.
Oren-Ibarra has been incarcerated since the incident. In exchange for his pleas, the Windham County State's Attorney's office agreed to dismiss a felony count of aggravated domestic assault. That didn't sit well with the victim, who said Oren-Ibarra has a history of being abusive. She told Suntag that Oren-Ibarra requires "serious rehabilitation" and said she "will be sure to protect myself and my family" when he is released.
"I want him far, far away," she said. "And I'm scared. And I want to make sure that's clear to the court."
At the same time, though, the victim also said she understood the risks associated with the unpredictability of a jury trial. With the guilty plea, "at least I feel secure in that he'll be supervised and there is some sort of sentence," she said.
Deputy State's Attorney Ashley Harriman said her office considered concerns about a trial, Oren-Ibarra's lack of prior felony convictions and the fact that he will undergo domestic-violence counseling.
"Taking all those things into account, the state was willing to enter into this plea agreement with the defense," Harriman said.
Defense attorney James Valente said his client now will have a felony record, and "that's not something he'll ever get away from."
Given the time he already has served, Oren-Ibarra is eligible to soon be released from prison. That decision will be up to the state Department of Corrections. Valente noted that, even when Oren-Ibarra leaves prison, he'll remain under strict court supervision.
"Mr. Oren understands that he's not going to have a lot of leeway in any aspect of his life," Valente said.
After Oren-Ibarra expressed remorse for his actions and said he is trying to change his life, Suntag said it "remains to be seen" whether the defendant can continue to stay out of trouble.
"What you said is excellent," Suntag said. "Now, it's time to put that into action."
The judge also thanked the victim for her testimony, during which she said she her request for a relief-from-abuse order had been denied prior to December's incident.
"If that had been granted, I wouldn't be here today," she said. "I wouldn't have had to deal with what I did. I hope that the court will understand that, when somebody seeks protection, it's really important. I could have died."
Suntag told her that "your story is very important to know publicly," adding that, "you've educated us."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.