Mental health worker pleads guilty to sex assault charge

In this file photo from October 2017, Brattleboro resident Robert Havens consults with his attorney Bettina Buehler in Windham County Superior Court, Criminal Division. On Friday, Havens pleaded guilty to sexual assault, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and obstruction of justice. His sentencing hearing has not yet been set.

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BRATTLEBORO — A mental health worker accused of sexually assaulting a child under the age of 16 pleaded guilty to three charges and could spend at least the next four years in prison.

At a change of plea hearing on Friday afternoon, Robert Havens, 49, of Brattleboro, pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a victim under the age of 16, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and obstruction of justice.

Several other charges, including unlawful restraint and enticing or harboring a child, were dismissed.

"This is a case in which the disparity of power between the offender and the victim is very substantive and very exploitative," said Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein. "In the ordinary course, the state would have been looking for a more substantial sentence."

But, noted Gartenstein, the victim has been through enough throughout the whole process. He said subjecting "a very vulnerable child" to the possibility of being questioned by the defense in court justified the plea agreement. He told Judge John Treadwell that both the victim and the victim's family support the resolution of the case without going to trial.

Treadwell sentenced Havens to four to 15 years on the sexual assault charge, four to 15 years to be served concurrently on the lewd and lascivious charge, and two to five years to be served on the obstruction charge, also concurrent with the sexual assault charge.

During the change of plea hearing, Havens admitted that he began a sexual relationship with his victim in March 2017 when she was a patient of the Brattleboro Retreat. After her release from the Retreat in April, the relationship continued through August 2017.

"In August, the Brattleboro Retreat learned of a serious allegation against an employee of our adolescent inpatient program," Konstantin von Krusenstiern, vice president of Development and Communications, stated in an email sent to the Reformer in October 2017, when Havens was first arraigned on the charges. "The Retreat immediately placed the accused employee on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation conducted by the appropriate authorities. The Retreat has fully cooperated with that investigation. We consider this to be an extremely serious matter and are also conducting an internal investigation. The Retreat remains committed to ensuring our campus environment is safe for all."

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Following his arraignment in October, Havens was released on conditions, but in January 2018, his bail was revoked after the court learned he had sent text messages to his victim, which the prosecution interpreted as an attempt to intimidate her into not testifying.

"I haven't said anything yet," wrote Havens in one text. "I won't use these things to hurt you. When the time comes, I will take responsibility. If I do that now I'm looking at life in prison. I didn't kidnap anyone, you know that."

As a result, his bail was revoked and the state filed the obstruction of justice charge against him.

Under state sentencing guidelines, Havens could have received up to 20 years in jail on the sexual assault charge and up to 15 years on the lewd and lascivious charge. The obstruction of justice charge has a maximum guideline of five years.

Havens' sentencing hearing has not yet been set.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or