Mother pleads guilty in sexual assault case (11/12/09)

Nov. 12, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston mother of a girl molested by sex offender Mark Hulett pleaded guilty Friday to allowing the abuse to occur.

In a plea deal with state prosecutors, Cherie Hyde, 34, pleaded guilty to a charge of felony accessory to sexual assault. She had initially been charged in December 2008 with felony aggravated sexual assault on a child younger than 10 and aiding in the commission of a felony.

As part of the deal, Hyde faces two to 10 years in prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled for a later date.

During the hearing, Hyde appeared distraught and, at times, had trouble answering the questions of Judge Michael Kupersmith. She also had difficulty saying the word “guilty.” Hyde also shook her head when Deputy State’s Attorney Susan Hardin explained to Kupersmith how Hyde knew about Hulett’s abuse of her daughter.

Prosecutors charged that Hyde knew about and did not try to stop Hulett’s sexual abuse of her daughter, which took place at Hyde’s home when the girl was between the ages of 6 and 10.

Hulett pleaded guilty in 2006 to charges of aggravated sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct with a child.

In an interview with a therapist in the summer of 2008, the daughter, now 14, said she knew her mother was aware of the abuse, according to a police affidavit.

The girl has since been adopted.

Hulett’s case drew national attention when he was sentenced to just 60 days in prison so he would be eligible for a treatment program for sex offenders. Hulett’s sentence was increased to three years after the law was changed to allow treatment for sex offenders during incarceration.

Although Hulett’s prison term expired in January, he remains in a penitentiary in Kentucky since he has not found appropriate housing, according to the Vermont Department of Corrections Web site. Convicted sex offenders must often find housing away from schools, playgrounds and other locations, depending on city and town ordinances.

Hyde’s case is unique in Vermont. She became the first individual charged under a law that states accomplices in sexual assault crimes are to be held as accountable as perpetrators, Hardin said.

Presiding over Friday’s hearing, Kupersmith asked Hardin why prosecutors pursued a reduced charge and plea deal in the case.

“We had nothing to compare (the case) with,” Hardin said. “But the message had to be sent that you have to be held accountable for protecting your child.”

Kupersmith expects to accept the plea deal, though, after reviewing the case, he could decide to reject the deal. Hyde could then withdraw her guilty plea depending on Kupersmith’s decision.

At the upcoming sentencing hearing, prosecutors and Hyde’s public defender, William Norful, are expected to call witnesses. Norful said the judge would hear about Hyde’s own history of “horrific abuse,” but Kupersmith indicated her past issues might not play into what happened to her daughter.

“What reasonable person would allow a grown male to occupy the room of a small child, never mind in her bed?” Kupersmith asked. “I mean, come on.”


Separate offense

During Friday’s hearing, Hyde also pleaded guilty to an unrelated offense of providing false information to a police officer. According to Hardin, Hyde lied to Williston police about an incident involving a friend on Sept. 23. Hardin said Hyde told police she’d heard, while on the phone, a friend of hers being assaulted. Police later determined the assault never occurred. Hyde later rescinded her statements to investigators.

The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison. Hyde’s misdemeanor sentence will run concurrent with the accessory to sexual assault charge, if Kupersmith accepts the plea deal.