Saturday August 24, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A Brattleboro man will spend at least a decade in prison in connection with a 2011 sexual assault.

And authorities say David Piquette, 46, may end up behind bars for much longer if he continues to deny that he assaulted the victim in a Brattleboro motel. That’s because Piquette’s sentence, handed down Thursday in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, carries a mandatory maximum term of life in prison.

Judge David Suntag said the state Department of Corrections has the legal authority to require Piquette to take responsibility for his crimes before considering whether he should be freed after serving his 10-year minimum.

"Unless Mr. Piquette reaches a point where he can acknowledge what he did and then complete the programming, they are not going to release him," Suntag said. "So safety of the community is assured because of that."

Piquette was arrested in December 2011 after the victim reported that he had held her against her will and sexually assaulted her at the Unique Vermont Motel and Gift Shop on Marlboro Road.

Court papers said the victim became acquainted with Piquette online and initially met him in Massachusetts. She told police that she moved in with Piquette, who had been living at the motel, in November 2011. On Dec. 1, she reportedly told Piquette that she wanted to leave. But investigators said Piquette took her keys and assaulted her repeatedly that night and the next day.


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The victim eventually was able to get away and drove to her home state of New York, where she reported the assault.

Piquette was convicted of sexual assault and domestic assault after a November 2012 trial. The jury acquitted him of kidnapping.

He has been held without bail, and he returned to court Thursday morning for sentencing. Also attending the proceeding was the victim, who sat at the prosecutors’ table and read a prepared statement detailing what she called "very traumatic experience."

"It has made me miss out on time with my children and time I could have spent enjoying my life," she said, adding that "I was stuck in a deep depression that I could not find my way out of.

"What I was put through has made me a different person altogether," she told the judge. "I kept thinking to myself, ‘What I went though is something that happens on TV.’ I never thought it could actually happen to me."

The victim said she has found comfort in her new grandson but never will forget her experience in that motel room.

"I will have to live with what was done to me -- the images still passing through my brain every day of my life," she said. "Not only did this man, David Piquette, almost take my life, but he took the beauty of living away from me."

That testimony was countered by four witnesses called by defense attorney Robert Sussman. Family members and friends said Piquette is a peaceful person who poses no threat to the community.

"He’s a generous and giving person," said Gregory Wallin, Piquette’s brother-in-law. "Very friendly, outgoing. He would help anyone."

Longtime friend Tamara Rabideau said she has known Piquette to be "completely honest" and to even have apologized profusely when he accidentally stepped on her cat’s tail.

But Windham County Deputy State’s Attorney David Gartenstein noted a comment Piquette made about women to a former coworker after the motel incident "indicating that he didn’t like it when ‘they’ would react this way."

That, Gartenstein argued, showed a different side of Piquette.

"There was evidence that did, in fact, raise questions about whether the peaceful character that the defendant has shown to others in the community actually has been the same in his private relationships," Gartenstein said.

Also, the prosecutor pointed out "significant contradictions" in the statements Piquette initially gave to police, his testimony at trial and his comments in a pre-sentence investigation report.

Sussman, though, cast doubt on the significance of those differing accounts.

"People’s stories will change in the details as they go along," Sussman said. "This was obviously a very emotional experience for Mr. Piquette. The trial testimony had to have been extraordinarily emotional for him."

In offering his sentencing recommendation, the defense attorney was constrained by a mandatory three-year-minimum prison term effective for this case. But he argued that his client should serve a minimum sentence based on his "low-risk" status and his lack of a criminal history.

Sussman also invoked the work of The Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

"The system’s not infallible. Things do go wrong," he said. "This case, unfortunately, is not the type of case that is open to that type of analysis."

The judge, however, said Thursday’s proceeding was not the place for such arguments.

"In any case, there are always possibilities that somebody got something wrong," Suntag said. "But we don’t sentence based on a possibility of a jury getting something wrong. We sentence based on the verdict of the jury."

And the jury, Suntag said, convicted Piquette on "extraordinarily serious" offenses.

"This is rape. I think everybody knows that rape is one of the most-serious things you can do to another human being," Suntag said. "It takes the life out of that person. It’s a weapon of war in other places. It is an event that can destroy souls. There’s no question about that."

The judge added that it is important for Piquette to acknowledge and "come to grips with" his crimes so that authorities can properly assess whether he remains a risk to others.

"It’s not just a question of whether or not he wishes to express remorse. That would be good," Suntag said. "But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about safety."

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