November 24, 2014

More charges possible in sexual abuse case

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10-year-old girl was allegedly molested for years

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Authorities continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged long-term sexual assault of a Williston girl, and more charges in connection with the case are possible.

Mark Hulett, 34, of Williston, was arraigned last week on two counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. He pleaded innocent to the charges. The assault charges carry potential life sentences.

Hulett is accused of having an ongoing sexual relationship with the girl, a daughter of a family friend. The girl is now 10 years old. Hulett, a 10-year member of the Williston Fire Department, was arrested last week a few hours after departing a fire department training session.

Hulett subsequently admitted to police that he had repeated sexual contact with the girl over the past two to three years, according to court documents. The girl did not disclose to police inappropriate contact with Hulett.

Hulett was being held without bail in Chittenden Correctional Facility, though he had a hearing last week and the court was still considering as of Tuesday whether to set bail.

Law enforcement officials are gathering information on Hulett’s relationship with the girl, including interviews with neighbors. Nicole Andreson, the Chittenden County state’s attorney prosecuting the case, said she would determine whether to seek the maximum life sentences for Hulett after the investigation was complete.

The investigation is not limited to the relationship between Hulett and the girl.

Detective Sgt. Bruce Bovat, director of the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations, said law enforcement officials also continue to look into allegations that the girl was sexually assaulted by one of Hulett’s friends. Hulett and his friend were investigated in 2003 for alleged sexual abuse of the girl. Bovat said CUSI and the state Department for Children and Families investigated that case after one of the girl’s teachers made a report to authorities based on something the girl had said at school.

Probable cause was not found for arresting either man, according to court documents. Bovat said authorities are now investigating the other man again, though no charges had been filed as of late Monday afternoon .

Court documents indicate that a relative of the girl told police that she had heard that Hulett’s friend “had previously forced himself” on her. The court records include graphic details that the relative said the girl had reported to her about the incident.

She told the relative that Hulett’s friend had threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about the alleged assault, according to court documents.

Court records also raised the possibility that Hulett might have sexually assaulted one of the girl’s friends. Hulett denied the suggestion, according to court records. “There has been nothing that indicates any wrongdoing,” with another girl, Bovat said.

Hulett was a close friend of the girl’s family and stayed at their house frequently. She referred to him as her “uncle.”

The girl’s father told police that he and his wife often found Hulett sleeping in the same bed as the girl, but they did not halt the practice, court records say.

The parents also told police they had seen Hulett and the girl whispering together in the bathroom and holding hands in the family’s living room, the court records say. Hulett often picked the girl up from school and babysat for her.

Hulett’s close relationship with the girl continued even after he was investigated in 2003 amid allegations that he had sexually abused the girl.

Andreson said sexual offenders often develop close relationships with the families of their victims, gaining their confidence. The possibility of a sexual relationship does not enter their minds.

In fact, the parents told investigators that the close relationship between their daughter and Hulett had not concerned them “until now,” according to court records.

“It’s not uncommon for the offender to be known to a victim’s parents,” Andreson said. “It is an even greater betrayal when (the offender) is someone they know and trust.”

Bovat described the girl’s parents as being “emotional,” “in disbelief and shock,” and “very upset.” The Observer is withholding the names of the parents to protect the identity of the girl.

Bovat said the parents initially reported the suspected abuse to law enforcement officials earlier this month. The girl had told a cousin that she had a sexual relationship with Hulett. The cousin informed another of the girl’s relatives, who then told the parents.

The parents’ willingness to allow Hulett such intimate access to their daughter raises questions about their judgment, but authorities are not saying whether the parents were criminally negligent or simply too trusting of Hulett.

Bovat did not rule out the possibility that the girl’s parents would be charged.

“That’s ongoing,” Bovat said. “They are currently helping us. There are a lot of things that need to be looked into, but I can’t give a yes or no on that.”

Bovat said the state’s Department for Children and Families was also investigating the circumstances of the alleged sexual assault. Tracey Brown, a DCF investigator who interviewed the girl with Bovat earlier this month, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Andreson declined to answer questions about the girl’s parents.

“I don’t want to comment on that right now,” Andreson said. “Right now, our principal focus is on Mr. Hulett and holding him accountable for what we believe are criminal and horrible actions against this young girl.”

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