Jamaica man denies sex-assault charges
BRATTLEBORO -- A Jamaica man faces four felony charges -- including two that carry a maximum life sentence -- after police said he repeatedly sexually assaulted a juvenile.
James Shields, 37, was held without bail after pleading not guilty to all charges Friday in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division.
"I don't doubt that Mr. Shields' ties to the community are strong, and I don't doubt that he has a place to stay," Judge Katherine Hayes said. "However, this is a series of very serious charges."
Vermont State Police say an investigation began Thursday when they were notified of the assault allegations by an official with the Vermont Department for Children and Families.
The victim told authorities that the assaults had happened for about five years. The victim also said she was fearful because Shields has "anger issues," an affidavit says.
The Reformer does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Police went to Shields' home that same day. He denied the allegations and said he wanted to speak with an attorney, court documents say.
Shields faces charges of aggravated, repeated sexual assault; sexual assault; sexual assault of a victim under 16; and lewd/lascivious conduct with a child.
He was arrested and processed at the State Police Rockingham barracks Thursday. Judge David Suntag ordered Shields held without bail pending arraignment, which happened Friday afternoon in Brattleboro.
The Windham County State's Attorney's office on Friday asked for the hold-without-bail status to continue, citing the seriousness of the charges and Shields' criminal record, which includes multiple felonies and an escape from an officer's custody.
Defense attorney Joanne Baltz said Shields should be released with court-ordered conditions. Shields has a place to live and a full-time job, she told Hayes.
"The family does have some financial difficulties, and he is the sole provider at this time for the family," Baltz said.
But Hayes said Shields' escape conviction is "concerning" and "raises serious questions about his likelihood of appearing" for future court dates.
The judge also said that, given the nature of the charges filed by the state, "there is a presumption that no bail should be set" unless the defense can show otherwise.
Shields will be held without bail pending a weight of the evidence hearing.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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