Man sentenced five years for sexual assault

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BENNINGTON — An 18-year-old man has been sentenced up to five years in prison for the sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl.

Randy Hughs, of Bennington, was accused of having sexual intercourse with the underage girl last summer. A jury found Hughs guilty on Nov. 16 on a felony charge of sexual assault on a victim less than 16 years old.

Judge William D. Cohen, following an hour-long hearing in Vermont Superior Court Bennington Criminal Division on Friday, sentenced Hughs to a minimum of two years and six months and a maximum of five years.

Cohen, describing Hughs' action and the crime, called them "easility avoidable, unnecessary and impulsive."

The girl is now 15. In a statement read aloud to the court, she described how the incident affected her mentally, physically and emotionally. She said it's made it difficult to concentrate in school, she has panic attacks, and that she now has a difficult time trusting people.

"I'd like him to be punished... I'd like him gone so I never see him again," she said.

Deputy State's Attorney Alex Burke, echoing the victim's statement, said Hughs stole the girl's virginity. Burke said Hughs should have known better and said the state was concerned over a presentence investigation found Hughs placed some responsibility for his behavior on the victim.

Burke also noted Hughs was on conditions of release for two cases: The first for unlawful mischief and domestic assault, and the second for careless or negligent vehicle operation and disorderly conduct. Both cases are still pending.

"In a very short period of time, he engaged in multiple criminal acts," he said.

Burke requested an incarcerative sentence with a minimum of four years and maximum of 16, which he said it would give "sufficient time" for the victim to complete school and move on with her life without living in fear from Hughs. The high maximum "gives plenty of time for supervision to ensure he does not do this again," Burke told Cohen.

Defense attorney Katherine Lamson, representing Hughs, argued he had received "a great deal of punishment. He spent most of his 18th year in jail and will have to register on the public sex offender list, she said.

Lamson repeatedly stressed she did not intend to minimize the effect the crime had on the victim and her family. Evidence presented at trial, including text messages, showed Hughs and the victim were in a relationship, she said.

"What he's being convicted of and accepted responsibility for was having sex with the victim when she was 14," Lamson said. "She was a child, she could not consent. That was wrong. It was a crime."

Lamson said Hughs was "appropriate for and amendable to community supervision." She referred to a presentence investigation report, as well as testimony by psychologist John Holt, a defense witness who took the stand on Friday.

"If he doesn't succeed, that's the time to sentence him to a period of time in prison," she said.

Lamson asked for a split sentence with credit for 261 days Hughs spent in jail since his arrest last August, so he could come out on probation. The suspended sentence would be 14 months to three years. The 14 months was what Holt testified would be necessary for him to complete moderate intensity level treatment.

Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.

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