AUBURN, Maine — A former Lewiston firefighter was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in jail for assaulting his daughter multiple times, but will serve no time behind bars.
Donald Lagrange, 55, of 22 Baril St., will be on probation for 20 years. During that time, he will be barred from having any contact with his 27-year-old daughter and victim, Christa Smith, and her family. Lagrange also must have no contact with any females younger than 18 without adult supervision until 2032, when he will be 75 years old.
Lagrange will have to undergo a mental evaluation and follow any recommended counseling and treatment. Prosecutors said Lagrange is expected to enroll in a sex offender therapy program.
He pleaded guilty last week in Androscoggin County Superior Court to 20 counts of misdemeanor assault dating back to the 1990s. He was sentenced to 364 days on each count, to be served consecutively. If he were to violate the conditions of his probation, he could be made to serve time in jail on the underlying sentence up to a total of 20 years.
Lagrange was indicted by an Androscoggin County grand jury in 2010 on three counts of gross sexual assault. Those charges were dismissed Tuesday afternoon.
Lewiston Fire Chief Paul LeClair said Lagrange, a decorated longtime firefighter, retired from the department in December 2010, three months after his arrest.
Assistant District Attorney Andrew Robinson said Tuesday that there were problems with the prosecutors’ case against Lagrange on those counts. A jury had been picked and Tuesday was scheduled to be the first day of his trial.
Robinson said reaching the criminal threshold of proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt may have been a challenge given Smith’s mental health history.
The goal of the compromise agreement, he said, was to ensure the safety of children in the community by having Lagrange on probation for 20 years and barred from contact with young girls.
Defense attorney Bill Cote, who said his client denied the original charges, said Tuesday avoiding a trial was important because “juries sometimes reach the wrong conclusion,” despite admitted weaknesses in the prosecutors’ case. He said Lagrange welcomed the supervision and evaluation required by the plea agreement in hopes that they “will give comfort” to his daughter.
A trial would have been “extremely harrowing” given the high level of emotion it would have involved.
Smith, who often spoke through sobs during Lagrange’s sentencing, maintained that her father “raped me and took away every fiber of purity from me. You hurt me more than any words could ever describe.”
She said she has spent her life “torn, confused, angry and despaired over what you did to me.”
Smith said she abused herself for years by cutting and burning herself “because I thought I was a disgusting, dirty whore.”
She said she repeatedly attempted suicide in an effort to find peace.
“What 12-year-old child puts a gun to her chest and pulls the trigger?” she said. “What little girl thinks the only way to cry out in pain is to cut her body to pieces and bleed her tears? What lost teenager overdoses with the hope of never waking up?”
In an interview with the Sun Journal after sentencing, Smith said she was willing to have her identity revealed. The Sun Journal has a policy of not naming victims of sexual assaults without their permission.
Smith said in that interview that Lagrange had sexually assaulted her from her earliest memories, starting around age 8. She was taken by the state when she was 16 years old and put in a group home. She said she had pleaded to be taken by the state. Representatives of that group home sat with her on Tuesday in the courtroom.
“They made me feel safe again” and helped her regain her strength, she said.
After turning 18, she had worked to assist other children who had been abused at home, she said.
In 2008, she returned to Maine after living four years in North Carolina in order to document the charges she eventually brought against her father. She had amassed voluminous records at the Department of Health and Human Services as well as mental health records.
She returned to North Carolina where she lives with her husband, James, who also addressed the court Tuesday.
In a twist of fate, Smith became a firefighter, but denied it was because of her father. She said she trained for that job as well as emergency medical technician and medical assistant in order to help people, she said.
Smith told Justice Carl O. Bradford in court that she would have preferred Lagrange be convicted on the sex charges and that he be forced to register as a sex offender. But she said she would abide by Bradford’s decision. He approved the plea arrangement Tuesday, saying he wouldn’t second guess the attorneys and the judges who presided over the case before him.
Lagrange denied the original charges Tuesday in a statement to the court.
“I never abused, assaulted or molested you, Christa,” he said. “I am guilty of only one thing: being your dad, during your better times and also during your tumultuous times.”
He said they had a happy and normal life until she said her stepfather molested her. After that, Lagrange worked with her through counseling and therapy to assist her in her “mental health issues and personality disorders.”
He said he never ever gave up on her. He tried to be supportive and reassuring, he said.
“Walking away from you, Christa, was never an option,” he said.
But now he realizes she has no desire to have him be part of her life, he said.
“I wish you well, Christa.”
Members of Lagrange family attended the hearing, but no one spoke.
Sue Goodwin, Smith’s mother, told Justice Bradford, “What this man did to my daughter is unforgivable. Only a selfish monster would do a thing like that to his own child.”
She said, “Don was supposed to protect Christa, not take her innocence away.”
Smith’s husband, James, told Lagrange that fathers are supposed to protect their daughters, not hurt them.
“Why would you hurt someone you’re supposed to love, cherish and protect?” he said. “I pray one day you find that answer.”
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