Mother charged in sex abuse case12/24/08

Dec. 24, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In another twist in the Mark Hulett sex abuse case that shook Williston and Vermont more than two years ago, the mother of Hulett’s young victim was charged Thursday with cruelty to a child.

The mother pleaded not guilty to the charges Thursday at the Vermont District Courthouse in Burlington and was released.

According to a state police affidavit, the 33-year-old mother of the victim knew and was witness to the abuse, which started in 2001 when the victim was 6 years old. The girl is now 13 and living with an adoptive family. The Observer is not releasing the mother’s name to protect the identity of her daughter.

If convicted, the mother could face a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of $500.

“We’re going to prosecute this,” said Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan. “We think it’s a very serious crime.”

Hulett, a friend of the mother who used to stay at the woman’s house a few nights a week, pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault in 2005 after years of abusing the girl. In a case that made national headlines, Hulett was originally sentenced to only 60 days in prison. After a large public outcry and a change in sex offender treatment programs in prisons, Hulett was resentenced to three years. He is due for release on Jan. 2.

The new charges came to light after the daughter told her therapist over the summer that her mother knew and saw Hulett sexually abusing her. According to police, the daughter told her therapist about her mother’s actions after reading a letter written from the woman. In the letter, the mother stated if she had known the abuse was going on, she would have stopped it.

“She knew you know,” the daughter told the therapist, according to the police report.

Under a Vermont law that requires anyone in a medical, public safety or mental health field to report any suspicion of child abuse, the therapist had to report the information to police.

According to the affidavit, the mother entered her daughter’s room one evening and witnessed Hulett performing a sex act on the girl. The mother left medicine for her daughter and left the room without saying anything. The girl’s stepfather was at the house at the time, as were a friend of the mother’s and the friend’s daughter.

The mother admitted to investigators last month to witnessing a possible sex act during the incident her daughter recalled, and didn’t stop Hulett or ask him to leave the room, according to the report. The daughter said her mother witnessed Hulett sexually abuse her a total of six times, even after an initial police investigation in 2003, the report said. Charges were not filed against Hulett until 2005.

The daughter’s stepfather also told police he had seen Hulett in the girl’s bedroom while possibly performing a sex act on the child on a separate occasion, and did not say anything to Hulett, but rather told his wife. The stepfather has not been charged in the case and most likely won’t be due to the state’s concerns about the man’s mental aptitude, Donovan said.

Donovan said he did not know why the mother was not originally charged with child cruelty and endangerment two years ago, when it was revealed in the Hulett investigation that she and her husband knew Hulett slept in her daughter’s room. Donovan was not the state’s attorney at the time of the case.

The woman denied knowing the abuse was taking place at the time of Hulett’s trial. Donovan said she continues to deny any knowledge even though she “made an admission” to investigators last month to seeing something suspect going on. Donovan said she rejected a plea deal he offered before charges were filed.

The original prosecutor in the Hulett case, former Chittenden County state’s attorney Nicole Andreson, who now works for a private law firm in Burlington, did not immediately return messages left by the Observer seeking comment on the charges.

The Observer was also unable to contact the mother before press deadline. A listed phone number for the woman was out of service, and a phone number in court documents was found to be incorrect. She had not responded to a note left at her house prior to press deadline.

Donovan said a status conference for the case is scheduled for the middle of next month.