BRATTLEBORO -- A Guilford man will spend four years under state supervision -- and must undergo counseling -- after pleading guilty to making inappropriate comments to an underage girl.
David M. Fletcher, 54, entered guilty pleas on Friday to misdemeanor counts of prohibited acts (engaging in lewdness) and violating his conditions of release. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dismissed three other charges including a felony. But Judge David Suntag noted that Fletcher will be serving four years of probation under strict conditions and monitoring.
"At some point there's a line, and the line can't be crossed. The facts of what you did crossed that line, and that's why we're here," Suntag said.
"I am glad you're acknowledging what you did here so that everybody can move on," the judge added. "That's very important."
Fletcher initially had faced more-serious charges including lewd or lascivious conduct with a child; sexual exploitation (luring child/attempted luring); and two counts of domestic assault.
The first two counts, which were felonies, were related to allegations of sexual suggestions and conduct with a young girl in 2011 and 2013. The Reformer does not identify victims of sexual assault. The domestic assault charges stemmed from incidents involving the same victim in November and December 2013.
In the end, Fletcher acknowledged two acts: He admitted making an inappropriate comment to the juvenile in November 2013, and he admitted to communicating with a different juvenile via Facebook earlier this year in spite of a court order prohibiting contact with that juvenile.
The prohibited acts charge to which Fletcher pleaded guilty is a misdemeanor, and it is amended from the earlier sexual exploitation charge. The lewd or lascivious conduct charge and the two domestic assaults were dismissed.
In taking Fletcher's guilty plea Friday in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, Suntag made sure to spell out the defendant's comments: "You had $100 saved in case you got lucky, and that she could have that money if she was feeling lucky."
The words were sexual in nature and were directed at the girl, Suntag said.
Fletcher initially balked at that characterization, telling the judge that he had said, "I just got paid and I wanted to get laid," and that those comments were not directed at the girl. But after consulting briefly with defense attorney Mimi Brill, Fletcher agreed with the original version, and the plea proceeded.
Addressing the judge regarding the plea agreement, Windham County Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein said he "believed that we would be able to get an admission and an acknowledgment of responsibility as to the (comments) that occurred in November."
"And that would be a very important thing for (the victim) to hear and would be able to form the basis, going forward, for her knowing that there was an acknowledgment of what happened to her and knowing that the defendant would be held responsible for that," Gartenstein said.
He also addressed the felony charges that had been dropped.
"There were evidence questions which made those potentially more difficult to prove," Gartenstein said. "Based upon everything we knew, the state believed that the sentence that had defendant on probation and supervised with these conditions was the appropriate way to go."
Brill told the judge that her client is a lifelong local resident and a "family man." Through this case, she said, Fletcher could learn "boundaries" and that "you have to be very careful around adolescents" with words.
"All of this does make sense, I think, for everybody," Brill said. "It's as best a result as we can see to make sure that things move on in a healthy way."
The victim, in a short address to the court, said the plea provides "some closure in my life" but said she was not entirely satisfied with the penalties being imposed on Fletcher. She noted a long-term, significant disruption to her family life because of the case.
"This whole experience has changed my life entirely," she said. "Yes, he gets penalized for what his actions are, but I'm still left with the life-long scar."
For his pleas, Fletcher received 15 to 18 months of jail time, but that is all suspended in favor of four years of probation. He does not have to register as a sex offender, but he must undergo counseling and can have no contact with the victim.
"You do have to understand, if you don't follow this strictly, they're going to be watching you," Suntag told Fletcher.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275. Follow him on Twitter @MikeReformer.