The conviction of a Benson man accused of sexually engaging girls under the age of 18 was postponed for two weeks Thursday after a consent form asked the man to spend time in detention, which is no longer possible in Vermont.
54-year-old Loren D. Wooster was due to resolve four files on Thursday after pleading guilty in February 2020 to two crimes for lewd and lascivious behavior. Some of the charges would be dismissed if Wooster were convicted under the agreement.
Judge David Fenster said he would first say he had “concerns” about the agreement.
Fenster said the total time Wooster was expected to be under the control of the corrections department would not be enough to complete counseling on sex offenders if he did not cooperate with a program he went through outside of a correctional facility.
He noted that the Corrections Department had turned Wooster down as a candidate for house arrest. In addition, last year’s Justice Reinvestment Act removed home ownership restrictions as an option in Vermont effective Jan. 1.
One of the women who reported to police that there was sexual activity between her and Wooster as a child told Fenster she did not support the proposed resolution.
“I think parole is totally unacceptable. That was rape. There is no parole for this. That took years of my life. Unfortunately, these other girls (who blamed Wooster) don’t know how this will affect the hem until it’s down the line later. I fought and lost years of my life and got my mother through hell because he did something to me, ”she said.
The hearing was held from a distance for the lawyers, judges and the testifying woman, but her voice became significantly more emotional as she explained her objections to the judge.
“That’s not fair. He’s going to have to be held accountable. This wasn’t once or twice. That happens over and over and when is enough enough? That happens over and over. Unfortunately, most of the time the justice system is not in place for the victims, however I hope we get some kind of justice today besides parole, ”she said.
In May 2017, the woman said she wished she had come forward earlier to report to Wooster, especially after learning that he was alleged to have had sexual contact with two girls, ages 11 and 15. He was charged with lewd and indecent offenses in December 2016 for two crimes of lascivious behavior for these allegations.
In the May 2017 and December 2016 cases, Wooster was accused of providing alcohol to the girls.
Rose Kennedy, the Rutland County prosecutor, told Fenster she understood his concerns but needed to consider whether or not she would get a conviction for taking the case to court.
“Obviously the state has met with (the woman who spoke on Thursday). She is a very believable person. The state believed her account. But there is an 11 year gap between the event and the first occurrence with law enforcement agencies (officials), ”she said.
While Kennedy said she thought the woman could explain the loophole, she said there were confirmatory witnesses with whom there was inconsistent contact.
Kennedy said the more than a decade gap between alleged incidents with Wooster and disclosure to police could raise doubts for some jurors. However, the plea agreement would result in Wooster being convicted of a crime and enrolled on the sex offender register for life.
In two other cases, Kennedy said some of the women who accused Wooster either refused to testify or were difficult to contact.
Attorney Peter Langrock, who represents Wooster, called Kennedy a “tough prosecutor” and himself an “experienced defense attorney”.
“We have tried to create something that is mutually acceptable given the overall situation,” he said.
Langrock said corrections were made under a “misunderstanding” when officials there rejected Wooster for house arrest. He also suggested that Fenster adhere to the plea agreement and allow corrections to decide how to deal with a prison sentence after their expertise had eliminated this option.
Langrock said there was “no question that Mr Wooster had sexual problems behind him,” but added that there had been no violations of his release conditions for four years since the case began.
According to Langrock, people who “feel hurt have the feeling, it’s my experience that it’s never enough”.
“It is the responsibility of both the prosecutor, the defense and the court to protect the public in general, not just appease the victims, although their feelings should certainly be taken into account,” he said.
Since the original plea agreement provided for home detention, Fenster agreed to postpone the hearing for Kennedy and Langrock for two weeks to reconsider the agreement.