Charges upgraded against mother in sexual abuse case1/22/09

Jan. 22, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The mother of a young victim at the center of one of Vermont’s most well known sexual abuse cases had the charges against her upgraded on Friday by Chittenden County prosecutors — from misdemeanor cruelty to a child to aggravated sexual assault. She could face more than 10 years in prison if convicted.

They are the same charges convicted rapist Mark Hulett pleaded guilty to after he repeatedly sexually assaulted the 33-year-old woman’s daughter when the girl was between the ages of 6 and 10. Under new state prison sentence minimums, the mother could go to jail for more than three times as long as Hulett if convicted.

The misdemeanor cruelty to a child charge carried a maximum sentence of two years in jail. The new, aggravated sexual assault charges carry a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, with a maximum sentence of life.

The Observer is not releasing the mother’s name to protect the identity of her daughter.

Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan said the state is charging the mother under a law that punishes individuals for aiding in felonies. While Donovan said the state doesn’t believe the woman assaulted her daughter, it can charge her as if she committed the crimes herself.

“It is the charge that we’ve all been talking about down in Montpelier in the Legislature, regarding Megan’s Law,” Donovan said. “The Vermont law allows us, under the enabling stature of aiding in the commission of a felony, to charge one who aids as a principal.”

According to police and prosecutors, and allegedly backed up by statements made by the daughter last year, the mother knew and witnessed Hulett abuse the girl.

“At the end of the day, parents have the responsibility to take care of their kids,” Donovan said.

The Hulett case made national headlines in January 2006, when Judge Edward Cashman initially sentenced the rapist to only six months in prison so he could seek sex offender treatment, which would not have been available to him while incarcerated. After the Vermont Corrections Department quickly changed its policy, Hulett was sentenced to three years. His sentence ended earlier this month, but he remains incarcerated in Springfield as he looks for a place to live.

Hulett’s case led to further changes in sex offender cases. There are now mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison. A bill is also being considered in Montpelier this year in the wake of the sexual assault and slaying last year of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett.

Shielding herself from the news station television cameras at Vermont District Court on Friday, the mother did not enter a plea to the new charges because she’s awaiting the counsel of a court-appointed public defender.

The woman’s arraignment is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 26 at 8:30 a.m. at Vermont District Court.