BRATTLEBORO -- Though he has admitted to a felony sex charge, Zachary Cheschi has a chance to stay out of prison.
The 19-year-old on Wednesday received a deferred sentence in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, meaning he can avoid incarceration and eventually have a conviction for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child removed from his record.
In order to reach those goals, however, Cheschi must complete four years of probation. That includes strict sex-offender conditions such as having no contact with any females under age 16 unless such contact is approved by his probation officer.
"The ability to have this removed from your record is extraordinarily important for your future," Judge David Suntag told Cheschi.
"Don't mess around with this probation," he added. "Whatever they tell you to do, just do it."
The case against Cheschi was filed in August 2013, three months after State Police began investigating a report that a girl younger than 16 had been assaulted in Jamaica.
The Reformer does not identify victims in such cases.
Court documents say the victim initially denied any sexual contact with Cheschi but later acknowledged it. An affidavit filed at the time said Cheschi "told her not to tell anyone" due to the fact that "he would get in trouble because of his age."
Cheschi had been charged with sexual assault of a minor as well as lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. But prosecutors dismissed the sex-assault charge in exchange for Cheschi's plea to the latter count.
At Wednesday's sentencing hearing, Windham County Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein said Cheschi was admitting only to "sexual touching" with the victim.
Gartenstein also noted that "there's no evidence in this case of force or compulsion."
"There are mitigating factors that have led the state to conclude that the deferred sentence was appropriate," the prosecutor told Suntag.
Nonetheless, Gartenstein said legal responsibility falls on Cheschi in this case because he was legally considered an adult at the time.
"The child was not capable of consent under the law, and it really was the defendant's responsibility to avoid sexual contact with her," he said.
Defense attorney Chris Montgomery said his client had no prior criminal record as an adult.
He also told the judge that Cheschi is employed and is volunteering as a firefighter in Weston. Since his arrest last year, Montgomery said, Cheschi has not violated his court-ordered conditions of release and has not gotten into any further legal trouble.
In regards to the criminal case and his guilty plea, "he understands what he's going to have to do and is more than willing to do that," Montgomery said.
Cheschi briefly addressed the judge, saying he is "doing really well now."
"I've really tried to change my ways around," he said. "I'm trying to do the right thing and stay out of trouble."
Cheschi must register as a sex offender. His probation includes orders that he have no contact with the victim in this case; undergo programming for sex offenders; and submit to DNA testing, random searches and polygraph examinations.
In addition to having no contact with girls under 16, Cheschi also cannot "work or volunteer for any business or organization that primarily provides services to or employs persons under the age of 16 years," according to court documents.
If Cheschi does not successfully complete probation, he could be sentenced to serve up to 15 years in prison, which is the maximum sentence for the lewd and lascivious conduct charge.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.