Man pleads to elevated assault charge to avoid sex registry

Posted March 18, 2011, at 6:29 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — To avoid having to register as a sex offender in Maine for the next 10 years, a Sullivan man agreed Thursday to plead to an elevated felony charge rather than to a misdemeanor.

Nathaniel I. Sargent, 22, had been charged with sexual abuse of a minor for having sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl in Gouldsboro on Sept. 1, 2010, according to documents filed in Hancock County Superior Court. The Class D charge of sexual abuse of a minor is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of $2,000.

But according to Sargent’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth, his client also would have had to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years if he had been convicted of the sexual abuse charge. By pleading instead to a felony aggravated assault charge, Sargent avoids the sex offender registry requirement. A Class B aggravated assault charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $20,000.

Sargent and prosecutors reached the plea agreement the day his case was expected to go to trial in Hancock County Superior Court. Sargent subsequently was sentenced to serve four years in prison as a result of the aggravated assault conviction.

Because most state employees were not working Friday, when many state offices were closed as a cost-saving measure, Hancock County Assistant District Attorney Mary Kellett could not be reached for comment.

Toothaker said Friday that his client already was looking at spending several years behind bars because of prior felony convictions and because of other charges he was facing unrelated to the Sept. 1 incident.

Sargent also pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of burglary, theft and violating conditions of release for breaking into Hancock Grocery on Nov. 28, 2010, and stealing beer, cigarettes and beef jerky. The burglary and theft charges were both Class C felonies, which carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

According to court documents, Sargent previously had been convicted of theft in Ellsworth District Court on Aug. 27, 2007, and of theft of a firearm in Washington County Superior Court on Dec. 5, 2008.

Toothaker said Sargent was enrolled in a drug court program when he committed the break-in at Hancock Grocery in November. Because of his client’s most recent violations, the attorney said Sargent already had been ordered by the drug court to serve three years and three months in prison anyway.

That time is to be served concurrently with the four-year sentence handed to Sargent on Thursday for aggravated assault. He also received concurrent sentences on Thursday of four years for the burglary conviction, one year for the theft conviction, and 60 days for violating conditions of release. As a result, Toothaker said, Sargent will end up spending only a few more months in prison than he would have anyway.

Toothaker said Friday that Sargent was close to the girl’s parents and, without going into detail, described the situation as “screwy circumstances.” Because of her age, the girl cannot consent to sexual contact, he said. The main reason his client was charged was because, at the time, she was 14 years old and Sargent was eight years older, he said.

“He did not assault her in the traditional sense,” Toothaker said.

Had the case gone to trial, he said, it really could have “gone either way” in terms of his client being convicted or acquitted.

Sargent was taken Thursday to Maine Correctional Center in Windham to begin serving his four-year sentence immediately, Toothaker said.

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