KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- A Shaftsbury man was convicted Tuesday by a jury of exposing himself to a girl while at a laundromat last year.
Thomas King Sr., 48, of Shaftsbury, pleaded not guilty in July to lewd and lascivious conduct, and stalking. He was held without bail for a time but ultimately released on conditions. The stalking charge was also dropped before the trial, which itself lasted about a day. The jury deliberated for two and a half hours. After it returned a verdict, King was released from Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division on conditions and a pre-sentencing investigation was ordered. The maximum penalty King faces is five years.
According to police, the incident occurred at the Paulin’s laundromat in North Bennington. A teenage girl told them she was at the laundromat using her computer when King had been staring at her and rubbing his crotch. She said he then exposed himself and masturbated. He was asked to leave the laundromat by an employee, but returned while police were speaking to witnesses.
Deputy State’s Attorney Christina Rainville said she was pleased at the outcome of the trial, adding that King has been accused multiple times of similar behavior in the past and has one conviction for prohibited acts stemming from such an incident.
Rainville said in her closing statements the girl had no reason to make up such accusations and the surrounding evidence from other witnesses corroborates her story.
King’s attorney, Frederick Bragdon, said in his closing argument the case comes down to reasonable doubt, which he said the state had not overcome with its evidence. He said there were inconsistencies with some testimony, and suggested there were valid reasons for some of King’s reported behavior that were not crimes.
"You have different testimony from different witnesses about the position of the chair," he said, referring to testimony given about who in the laundromat could see what from where. He said there were 14 other teenagers in the laundromat at the time "but we only have one teenager who is apparently making the accusation."
Bragdon said the girl who made the complaint was sitting near the laundromat’s only window, which would account for the alleged starring.
Bragdon directed the jury’s attention to a document showing Facebook posts the girl made from her laptop during the incident. They read, in part, "Some creeper keeps staring at me," "I’m kind of scared," "Please save me," and "Riding ponies in three days." Bragdon said some of the statements were punctuated smiley face emoticons, small graphics that indicate emotions in electronic text messages.
Bragdon said the girl has demonstrated she is articulate and can write what she means, and suggested the smiley faces and reference to ponies were not from a person who was truly afraid, as she had said she was.
"It’s not as traumatic as it sounds because it didn’t happen," Bragdon said.
He said his client was asked to leave by a clerk when she was complained to by the girl. Bragdon said King returned shortly after to retrieve his laundry while police were clearly there.
Bragdon said his client told investigators he was "adjusting himself," not groping himself, and that combined with the window placement, the fact that others who should have witnesses something did not, and other evidence added up.
"Eventually you get too many maybes, and that’s what reasonable doubt it all about," he said.
Rainville, in her rebuttal, said the only disparity between witnesses who testified was over the placement of chairs. She said the Facebook posting mentioning horses with smiley faces was an attempt to cope with a stressful situation, and said the other teenage girls in the building were focused on other things.