BENNINGTON — A Readsboro man accused of sexually exploiting a child is talking to prosecutors about settling the case. Meanwhile, the complainant’s father said the child has developed behavioral problems since the alleged incident a year and a half ago.
The defendant, 63-year-old Gene Peterson, is charged with luring a child back in April 2019, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
He also is facing charges that he violated his court-imposed conditions of release. The most recent are linked to Peterson’s picking up two new felony charges in Massachusetts: indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 as well as enticing a child under 16.
At a Bennington Superior Court hearing on Friday, defense attorney Jeffrey Rubin said Peterson is in “settlement discussions” with the state; a plea agreement has not yet been reached.
Rubin asked the court to allow Peterson to undergo a presentence investigation and a psychosexual evaluation while he is considering a plea deal. The lawyer said Peterson is participating in sex offender therapy and a substance abuse treatment program.
The presentence investigation, called the PSI, contains information about the defendant’s background and the circumstances of his offense, which helps the court determine the appropriate sentence.
A psychosexual evaluation, on the other hand, determines a person’s risk of committing a sexual offense and recommends treatment or other ways that would prevent a defendant from committing another violation.
The case prosecutor, Deputy State’s Attorney Alex Burke, supported the request for a PSI and psychosexual evaluation, saying they would be “helpful toward a resolution” in the case. The reports are usually done once a defendant has pleaded guilty or been found guilty of a crime.
Judge Cortland Corsones granted the request, adding he is only allowing the case to go this route because the coronavirus pandemic has suspended jury trials till sometime next year. Ordinarily, the judge said, he would ask the defendant to schedule a jury trial if he can’t reach a plea agreement at this stage in the case.
‘WAITING, UNCERTAINTY’The people listening to the court proceedings Friday afternoon included the complainant’s father, who expressed frustration at the pace the case is moving. His name is being withheld to protect the identity of his daughter, who is listed as a victim in a sexual exploitation case.
In an interview, the man said his daughter has developed behavioral problems after her contact with Peterson in April of 2019. Authorities accuse Peterson of making sexual comments to the then 11-year-old girl, whom state police said made a three-minute cellphone recording of the incident.
This school year, the dad said his daughter’s “behavior in school has been horrible,” explaining she has been “acting out, being loud, doesn’t want to do school work.” Last week, she apparently was sent home from school because of her behavior.
At home, the girl has become more withdrawn or else makes spiteful comments, he said.
The wait for the criminal case to get resolved is “exasperating, when there’s evidence for this,” the man said.
It took him a few weeks to report the incident to authorities in May 2019, he said, because he first considered whether he wanted to subject his daughter and his family to the waiting and uncertainty that would come with a criminal case.
REQUEST TO TRAVELMeanwhile, Peterson is asking the court to amend the conditions of his release. He requested for permission to travel from his home in Readsboro to Pittsfield, Mass. to participate in activities at the Berkshire Dream Center, a “spiritually-based community outreach program,” according to his lawyer’s written motion dated Friday.
Peterson wants to enter the center’s “Discipleship Program,” which would include attending classes, readings and study groups at the facility, Rubin said.
Peterson asked to be allowed to go to the center six days a week: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays as well as 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays to attend church service.
Burke, the prosecutor, objected to the request. The court scheduled a hearing for Dec. 15 to take up the matter.
Several days before that, on Dec. 4, Peterson has a hearing at Northern Berkshire District Court on his two pending felony cases in Massachusetts. Here, Peterson is accused of inappropriately touching an 8-year-old girl in the city of North Adams and asking if she could sneak out to meet him.