Supreme Court orders man resentenced on child sexual offenses
BENNINGTON — A 36-year-old man is waiting to be resentenced after the Vermont Supreme Court found that he was handed unlawful prison terms on two sexual offenses against minors.
At a Bennington County trial last year, Titus Peters was found guilty of abusing three local girls over a three-year period, starting in 2014.
Former Superior Judge William Cohen sentenced him to 30 years to life in prison on three felony offenses: repeated aggravated sexual assault on a child, lewd or lascivious conduct with a child as well as lewd and lascivious conduct.
Peters also was given one to two years in prison on three misdemeanor charges of voyeurism. The sentences were to be served side by side, according to court records.
Authorities alleged that between 2014 and 2017, Peters molested two girls he knew. He was accused also of secretly photographing and filming them, as well as a teenage girl.
A three-justice panel at the Supreme Court has affirmed Peters' conviction following his appeal. But the justices agreed with Peters that his penalties on the lewd and lascivious conduct convictions exceeded the sentences allowed under state law.
The maximum prison term for lewd and lascivious conduct is five years, whereas that of lewd or lascivious conduct with a child is two to fifteen years — unless the court decides to enhance the penalties for repeat felony offenders, according to the July 17 Supreme Court entry order.
Court documents show that when Peters was convicted at trial in June 2019, he already had three previous felony convictions in Vermont, qualifying him for the habitual offender enhancement.
Cohen declined to apply the enhancement yet went beyond the maximum penalty allowed, states the order by Chief Justice Paul Reiber and associate justices Beth Robinson and Karen Carroll.
"The State concedes that these sentences were erroneous and that defendant should be resentenced on these two counts, but not on his other convictions. We agree," the justices wrote.
Cohen was appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court in December and is disqualified from hearing appeals on cases where he presided.
As of Monday, Peters' case had not yet been sent back to the Bennington Superior criminal court for his resentencing.
A Supreme Court spokeswoman said the case files were supposed to be sent back Aug. 7 but the court had gotten behind because of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. She said Bennington County should get back the case "soon."
It's unclear who is representing Peters now; his former defense attorney has left the state. Bennington County Deputy State's Attorney Alex Burke prosecuted the case.
Peters is currently detained at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Miss., according to the state Department of Corrections. The facility is operated by a private company that is under contract to house Vermont inmates outside the state.
Contact Tiffany Tan at email@example.com or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.