'Beyond comprehension': Man gets 25-to-life sentence for Westminster sexual assault

Monday August 26, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Though he continues to deny that he repeatedly sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl in Westminster four years ago, David Edson will have a long time to think it over.

Edson was sentenced to serve 25 years to life in prison on Friday, about five months after he was convicted on two counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of lewd/lascivious conduct with a child in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division.

Judge David Suntag called Edson's conduct "almost beyond comprehension," and he noted a "chillingly similar" pattern of violent behavior in Edson's interactions with others.

That includes Edson's pending sentencing for a Washington County assault so severe that investigators initially charged him with attempted murder.

"You are a dangerous risk to many," Suntag said.

Edson, 29, was charged with assaulting the girl in her home in 2009. The victim reported the incidents when she was 12, and testified at Edson's trial in March.

"The defendant was convicted of repeated, nonconsensual sexual acts with a 10-year-old child," said David Gartenstein, Windham County deputy state's attorney.

Edson also "was convicted of another aggravated sexual assault count involving a separate act" along with the lewd and lascivious conduct conviction, Gartenstein said.

"There is just an impact on the victim that cannot be overstated. She was 10 years old at the time. She had a right to expect that she was going to be safe within her home," Gartenstein told Suntag during Friday morning's sentencing hearing.

He also noted, however, that the victim was far from safe in her home: In addition to the sexual abuse perpetrated by Edson, the girl also was physically abused by her mother.

Edson "would, from time to time, protect (the victim) from being beaten up by her mother," Gartenstein said. "That's just horrible, the circumstances in which she was living. I don't think there's any other way to describe it."

There was a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence in effect for Edson's conviction. But Gartenstein asked Suntag to impose a much higher minimum, requesting 30 years to life.

The prosecutor said that, in reviewing the details of the case and Edson's background, he could find nothing that might begin to explain Edson's behavior or serve as justification for a lighter sentence.

"The state searches in vain for any single mitigating factor throughout the entirety of these circumstances. There are very few cases where I can really say that," Gartenstein said.

Defense attorney David Sleigh argued for a much lighter jail term of 10 to 25 years, touching off a debate over whether Edson was facing a mandatory maximum sentence of life in prison.

After taking two recesses to conduct research, Suntag ruled against the defense in declaring that "all indications here are that the Legislature intended this to be a mandatory life maximum sentence."

Sleigh also called Thomas Powell, a Chittenden County-based psychologist who evaluated Edson twice this year, to testify by phone.

Powell summed up Edson as "a person with a number of significant needs." Specifically, he began by mentioning "disruptive behavior and exposure to parental influences that were not that great at a very early age."

Powell observed that "the issue of anger is one that has been prominent in his life and has been for a very long time," adding that substance abuse has aggravated that anger problem.

Some characterize Edson as "a great guy," Powell said, "but at the same time as a person who is incredibly volatile and dangerous when he gets mad and goes into a bit of a rage. There's a sudden look in the eye that people comment on."

Powell said the state's cognitive self-change and sex-offender programs could help Edson. But in regard to the Westminster allegations that led to Edson's conviction in March, "he has denied that and continues to deny that," Powell said.

Suntag said that lack of acknowledgment will make it difficult for Edson to gain entry into sex-offender treatment and, eventually, to be released from prison.

Before imposing a sentence, the judge took time to delve into Edson's past, noting statements from women who said he had beaten and choked them. In one incident, he allegedly threatened to cut a woman's throat in front of her children; in another, Edson held a knife to a pregnant woman's stomach.

"The abuse of the vulnerable to you, the available to you, seems to be a common thread," Suntag said.

Additionally, court records show that Edson was arrested in March 2011 and charged with attempted murder in connection with an assault in Northfield.

Seven months ago, he pleaded guilty to an amended charge of aggravated assault and is scheduled for sentencing next month. He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment in that case.

Though there had been debate about the sentencing range for the Westminster sexual assault, Suntag said there should be no question "about what level of offense we're talking about."

"What you did to that child ... is almost beyond comprehension," Suntag said. "Hopefully, she can recover somehow, but it will mess up her entire life."

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


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