Accused of multiple counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, a Jaffrey man instead pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to a year in jail Tuesday.
Bryon Whitney, 40, had been charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl earlier this year. Prosecutors also alleged Whitney had molested the same girl at some point between 2014 and 2017, when she was under the age of 13.
With the victim unwilling to testify, prosecutors were not able to take the case to trial or negotiate a tougher sentence, Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Keith W. Clouatre said in court Tuesday.
The Cheshire County Attorney’s Office could have dropped the charges and re-filed them later, if the girl felt ready to testify. But Clouatre said he chose to settle the case now because he felt it was important to get a court order prohibiting Whitney from seeing or contacting the girl, whom he knows.
“This is an attempt to provide some protection to her until she turns 18,” Clouatre said.
Whitney could have faced decades in prison if convicted of the original charges, which included five counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault.
The second-degree assault charge that Whitney admitted to, a class B felony, says he injured the girl by causing her “mental trauma.”
Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David W. Ruoff said he had met with the attorneys before the hearing and told them he would accept the proposed sentence only if Whitney was also required to register for 10 years as a sex offender. Whitney agreed to the registration requirement.
Under the law, a judge can impose a sex offender registration requirement when a crime like assault or burglary has an obvious sexual motivation. Ruoff made it clear that this case meets that description.
Of his one-year sentence, Whitney had already served 238 days in jail awaiting the resolution of his case. He will serve three years’ probation on his release. He was also ordered to undergo substance-use and psychosexual evaluations and comply with their treatment recommendations. He cannot have unsupervised contact with children.
After the hearing, Clouatre expressed frustration with the sentence but said it was all he could get given the circumstances. Even though DNA was recovered from the scene, testimony would be needed to prove the assaults occurred, he said.
“Defense counsel knows the evidence we’re stuck with and what they have,” he said. “… So I got very little leverage.”