Two bailiffs led Robert K. Chambers Sr. from the table, where he sat between his two public defenders, to a side door in the courtroom. He didn’t look back at the gallery as he walked into custody.
After a three-day trial in Cheshire County Superior Court and about five hours of deliberation, a jury had just found Chambers, 65, of Swanzey, guilty of four counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault for sexually abusing a relative throughout her childhood.
Chambers, a former police chief in Gilsum and Marlow, looked steadily and stoically at the jury box as the jury’s foreman announced the verdicts Thursday at around 4 p.m.
Chambers assaulted the girl through a variety of acts, including sexual penetration, between April 1994 and March 2001, according to the charges on which he was convicted. But the abuse, the victim said, started even earlier, when she was seven years old.
The jury did not reach a unanimous verdict on the fifth charge county prosecutors had brought against him. That charge alleged that Chambers sexually assaulted the girl, through intercourse, multiple times when she was between the age of 13 and 16, Assistant County Attorney Keith W. Clouatre, who prosecuted the case, said.
Chambers, who had been on house arrest since last July, is being held at the Cheshire County jail, according to Clouatre. He will be transferred to prison after his sentencing, which is scheduled for July 7.
Chambers faces a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison on each of the four counts. He does not face a minimum sentence on any of them. Although a grand jury had indicted Chambers on seven counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, the prosecution decided to bring only five to trial, according to Clouatre. He declined to comment about why.
“I think it’s an excellent verdict, and it shows that no matter how old these cases are, you’re not going to get away with it,” Clouatre said after the jury’s decision.
Approached by a reporter ahead of closing statements Thursday morning, Chambers declined to comment on the case.
Clouatre said it’s often difficult to bring sexual assault cases in which the alleged acts happened several years prior. Finding supporting witnesses and evidence for such cases can be difficult, he explained.
It wasn’t until last year, that the victim — now an adult — detailed Chambers’ sexual assaults to N.H. State Police. The police were speaking to her in her home state while investigating an unrelated case, State Police Detective Sgt. Michael Kokoski said on the stand Tuesday. State Police convinced her to share more details, the woman said, ultimately leading to Chambers’ arrest last July.
Most of the prosecution’s case relied on the sexual assault victim’s testimony. The woman took the stand on the first two days of the trial, and said Chambers exploited her emotions and used his position as a police chief to instill fear and keep her quiet.
Chambers also testified during the trial, vigorously denying the allegations.
“Bob testified, and he stands by his testimony,” Caroline L. Smith, one of Chambers’ public defenders, said in an interview after the verdict.
This wasn’t the first time Chambers had faced serious allegations: He was once a suspect in the 1978 death of his friend Russell Bean. He was charged with second-degree murder in 1988, but a grand jury later declined to hand up an indictment.
Police found Bean’s remains in Robert Chambers’ yard in Marlow; Bean’s killing remains unsolved.
In closing arguments Thursday morning, Meredith V. Lugo, Chambers’ other attorney, tried to poke holes in the victim’s testimony.
Lugo highlighted one of the woman’s responses to a question Clouatre asked Wednesday: Why, in recent years, had she maintained contact with Chambers via text messaging despite his past abuse? The text messages, which had been brought into evidence that day, were friendly in nature, often filled with humor, or delivering news about family events.
The woman responded that outside of the 15 minutes of abuse she endured once or twice a week as a child, her relationship with Chambers had been normal.
But Lugo argued that if the allegations were true, it wouldn’t be possible for the woman to forget about Chambers’ abuse and enjoy a normal life.
“Her fiction describes a life of fear, dread and hatred for the man who she claimed was doing these things. Yet she then tells you that the overwhelming majority of her life was good. That doesn’t make sense,” she said. “The two claims cannot both be true.”
In his closing statement, Clouatre said that she didn’t come forward about the assault for so long, in part, because she had no one to turn to.
“She can tell you how she’s painfully struggled with it for years. ... No matter where you go you can’t run from the stain inside,” he said of the victim’s grappling with the assault throughout her life.
He also noted that it had taken a long time for the case to see the light of day, but predicted its outcome.
“Justice has moved very slow in this case, but it’s inescapable.”