BRATTLEBORO - In April, Patrick Devens admitted to sexually assaulting an underage girl.

Even after pleading guilty, however, authorities say the Brattleboro man continued to have contact with the victim in spite of a court order. That contact allegedly happened during online chats deemed "grossly explicit and grossly exploitative" by one prosecutor.

On Tuesday, Devens, 26, returned to Windham Superior Court Criminal Division to be sentenced not just for the sex assault but also for repeated violations of his conditions of release.

Judge David Suntag decided Devens should spend 18 months in prison, with a more extended stay behind bars possible if he violates probation. Suntag rejected Devens' request for an immediate release from jail, citing the defendant's inability to follow court orders.

"The bottom line is, I can't trust you because of that," Suntag said. "You've proven that."

Brattleboro police said they began investigating Devens last year in connection with his relationship with a girl who was under age 16. The probe focused on alleged sexual activity at Devens' Clark Street apartment.

Police said that, on Nov. 21, a few weeks after they already had spoken with Devens about his "friendship" with the victim, they were called to the apartment and found Devens in bed with the girl.

Subsequent interviews with the victim and others showed that the relationship had been ongoing for several months, and Devens knew the girl's age, a court affidavit says.

One witness told police that he had seen Devens and the victim "hugging and kissing, and they usually did all of this in the apartment because Devens was skeptical what people would think if they did it in public," the affidavit says.

Devens, after his arrest, admitted to having repeated sexual contact with the girl, documents say.

On April 8, he pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a minor, a felony count. A charge of lewd/lascivious conduct with a child was dismissed.

Devens also pleaded guilty to two counts of violating his conditions of release by having contact with the victim via phone.

But he did not stop there. Windham County Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein said Devens, from February to May, was engaging in online conversations with the victim.

Transcripts from those chats "include very explicit sexual communications between the defendant and the child and a series of efforts by the defendant to influence the child's statements" for a pre-sentence investigation conducted by the state, Gartenstein said.

Gartenstein asked that Suntag impose a sentence of 10 to 12 years, with that prison time suspended except for 18 months to serve. That was the maximum sentence the state could argue for under the plea agreement with Devens.

"The only safe way for this to proceed forward is for the defendant to get sex-offender treatment in jail," he said.

Defense attorney Chris Montgomery pointed out that his client is not denying the sexual acts. He also said Devens is not a predator, but rather someone who engaged in an "inappropriate relationship."

"There's a lot of immaturity there," Montgomery said.

Based on Devens' lack of a criminal record and his acknowledgment of guilt, Montgomery argued that his client could undergo the proper treatment outside prison walls and with a strict no-contact provision imposed by the court.

Devens then stood to say he was sorry for his actions.

"I just want to apologize to everybody including my family, the young lady, the young lady's family -- anybody who's directly or indirectly affected by the situation," he said.

Devens added that, should he be released, contact with the victim "will not happen whatsoever. I know that cannot happen. It shouldn't have. It was inappropriate."

When Suntag pressed Devens to explain his continued interaction with the girl, he said he had considered the matter while serving the past four months in prison after his bail had been revoked.

"Honestly, your honor, I don't know what I was thinking," Devens said. "The consequences didn't enter my mind, because all I cared about was making sure she was OK through the whole thing."

Suntag rejected that explanation.

"You may have cared about her ... but that's not part of having sex with her," the judge said. "Having sex with her is for your pleasure."

"She was available to you, and you used her for that purpose," Suntag added.

The judge imposed a sentence of four to 12 years for the sex assault, with that time suspended except for 18 months that must be served behind bars. For Devens' guilty pleas to three counts of violating his conditions of release, he will serve a maximum six-month sentence concurrently.

Devens also must abide by sex-offender conditions and complete sex-offender treatment, and he can have no contact with the victim, Suntag ruled.

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