Thomas Susenbach

Thomas Susenbach turns to leave the courtroom during a short recess at his sentencing as Bennington Superior Judge Cortland Corsones decides his fate in a sexual offense against a child hearing held Wednesday. 

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BENNINGTON — A Bennington man who pleaded guilty to lewd and lascivious behavior with an 8-year-old girl over four years was sentenced to 18 months behind bars, sexual offender treatment, and a five-year probation sentence Wednesday afternoon.

Thomas Susenbach, 35, of Bennington, will serve an 18-month jail sentence at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Center, starting immediately. He will then be eligible for a five-year probation if his treatment is successful. Susenbach will also have to register as a sex offender for a period of 10 years after completing his probation.

Susenbach’s attorney, Thomas Enzor, presented four different witnesses on behalf of Susenbach — his mother, sister, supervisor, and a partial owner of Maplebrook Farms, where Susenbach worked for the past 11 years as a cheese maker. Each one of the witnesses for the defense testified to Susenbach’s work ethic and the fact that he had followed his conditions of release, including a strict curfew, to the letter.

However, prosecutor Alexander Burke was able to confirm through all four witnesses on cross-examination that Susenbach, in fact, had never admitted or taken responsibility for his crime to any of them. Each of the witnesses, including his mother, admitted on the stand that Susenbach told them he was completely innocent of the charge. Judge Courtland Corsones later brought up these admissions as proof that Susnbach had never taken any real responsibility for what happened, even though he had pleaded guilty to the charge as part of the plea deal with prosecutors.

After the defense witnesses had all testified, a victim’s advocate from the prosecutor’s office read a powerful victim impact statement, written in the victim’s own hand, to a silent courtroom.

“I want to let you know how Thomas has affected my life,” the statement began. “I met him when I was very young. He was nice ... I trusted him. I never felt scared of him. Then ... things changed.”

“When Tom did what he did, I lost trust in all men. He scared me so much. I am very uncomfortable around men. I feel afraid that they will hurt me as he did. I’ve tried to forget, but I can’t. I sometimes have nightmares that he is coming to hurt me because I told on him. So much has changed since then. I don’t hate him for what he did, but I want him to be punished for what he did because I feel like I am being punished for what he did to me.”

During closing arguments, Burke told the court, “Due to his actions, she had lost all trust in men and feels punished by what he did.” He went on to say, “The defendant has never taken responsibility for this crime, and punishment is necessary in this case.” Burke then asked the judge for a 2-15-year split sentence, with two years to serve and the rest on probation under strict conditions.

Defense attorney Enzor reiterated Susebach’s work ethic and the fact that he had no prior criminal record and had followed his “difficult” release conditions without incident. Part of those conditions, he said, was a no-contact-with-any-minors clause, which included contact with his own children, before calling it a “quip” in his overall character.

“Your honor, this doesn’t quite fit with the man standing before the court. Whatever happened four years ago was the exception rather than the rule here. Sometimes a behavior can be the exception. Mr. Susenbach does accept responsibility for this conduct by his guilty plea before asking for a two-to-five-year sentence, all suspended.”

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Then it was the defendant’s turn to speak.

“I had a lot of time to think about what I did,” Susenbach said in a barely audible voice. “An I’m sorry for what I did. I did talk to my family about the plea deal, but I don’t think they understood. I spent three years claiming my innocence, so they have their opinions as to why I took a plea deal.”

The courtroom was palpably tense as Sherriff’s Department deputies scurried back and forth inside the courtroom during a brief recess as Judge deliberated his sentencing decision. Members of Susenbach’s family and friends sat close together as, on the opposite side of the room, the young victim’s parents sat next to each other and close to the victim advocate. Sobs could be heard from both sides of the aisle as Corsones rendered his verdict.

“The defendant took advantage of his closeness to her to take criminal advantage of her. This is something a child should never have to experience. This has had a significant effect on the victim. She has lost her trust in men and has nightmares as a result.”

“In looking at the defendant, Mr. Susenbach seems amenable to (sex offender) treatment. That bodes well for his future. However, the driving force behind his willingness to treatment appears to be his desire to avoid incarceration. Mr. Susenbach has taken responsibility by pleading guilty to the charge. However, he will still need to admit to his actions, which he has been hesitant to do before he can be successful.”

He then rendered his sentence, two-to-five years, with 18 months to-serve, and a five-year probation.

According to the original court documents, Susenbach willfully and lewdly committed a sex act on the minor child over a period of four years, from June 2014 to June 2018. Susenbach was initially charged with three counts, one of which was repeated sexual assault of a child, which carried a maximum sentence of not less than 25 years if found guilty, and an additional charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child over that same four-year period. In April of this year, prosecutors dismissed the first two charges without prejudice, meaning that those charges can be re-charged at a later date if there is sufficient evidence and desired by the state.

When asked for clarity on the reasons for the dismissals, Burke did not want to comment, as those charges can still possibly proceed at some point in the future. As of press time, the Banner has yet to find the reasons for the dismissals.

As Susenbach arose, he was surrounded by Sherriff’s deputies, and glanced back toward his mother in the back of the courtroom for just a moment, then was escorted out of a side door. His mother, crying, hurried out into the hallway. A request for a comment from the victim’s parents was respectfully declined as they, too, walked out as the courtroom cleared.


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