BANGOR, Maine — Two men who admitted to sexually abusing children under the age of 12 received very different sentences Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center.
Terrence Pinkham, 28, of Bangor was sentenced to 30 years in prison under a 2006 law that recommends a minimum 20-year sentence for first-time sex offenders. The statute also allows judges to send offenders to prison for life.
District Court Judge Bruce Jordan also sentenced Pinkham to 15 years of supervised release with stringent conditions after he completes his prison term.
In an unrelated case, Daniel L. Severance, 30, of Glenburn was sentenced to seven years in prison with all but 18 months suspended on two counts of unlawful sexual contact with two girls under the age of 12. Superior Court Justice William Anderson also sentenced Severance to 12 years of probation.
Both men will be required to register as sex offenders for life.
The 30-year sentence for Pinkham highlights how attitudes toward the sexual abuse of minors have gotten tougher in Maine, according to lawmakers. The 18 months Severance will spend behind bars is a product of the difficulties prosecutors face when trying to balance justice against the need to protect victims from being revictimized by the judicial system, a court official said.
Both men were charged with several counts of gross sexaul assault, a Class A crime, but in Pinkham’s case, there were photos of the abuse. In Severance’s case, it was the word of two female victims against the defendant’s, according to Michael Roberts, deputy district attorney for Penobscot County.
Severance was indicted by the Penobscot County grand jury in July on six counts of gross sexual assault and nine counts of unlawful sexual contact between 2009 and 2011. In a plea agreement with the Penobscot County district attorney’s office, Severance pleaded guilty to six counts of the lesser charges of unlawful sexual contact, which carried a maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars.
Severance’s sentence was more typical of those imposed on first-time offenders convicted of Class B crimes, Roberts said.
Pinkham’s sentence is the longest imposed in Penobscot County history for a sex crime in which the victim was a child not yet 12 years old, the prosecutor said after the sentencing.
“The sentence shows the intent of the Legislature,” former state Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, who sponsored the bill that codified the provision under which Pinkham was sentenced, said Monday. “That is a severe sentence and rightly so. I applaud the court for imposing it.”
The statute was modeled after Jessica’s Law, named in memory of Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was abducted, sexually assaulted and brutally murdered in February 2005.
In its original form, the bill called for a mandatory minimum of 25 years for first-time offenders. The compromise bill signed into law recommended judges consider 20 years as the base sentence before weighing the mitigating and aggravating factors. The law also said that none of the sentence imposed could be suspended.
By pleading guilty to all counts, the two admitted that they sexually assaulted the boy and used a cellphone to photograph the assault, Roberts said.
Dube, who had no prior criminal record, was sentenced Jan. 11 at the Penobscot Judicial Center to 23 years in prison followed by 15 years of supervised release. The judge originally rejected a plea bargain that called for her to spend 17 years behind bars. The judge said in December that it was not long enough considering the relationship between Dube and the child.
In sentencing Pinkham, the judge said that one of the reasons his sentence was longer than Dube’s was his criminal record. Pinkham was sentenced in 2005 to four years in prison on burglary charges after failing to complete the Bangor Drug Court program. In January 2011, he served a seven-month jail sentence for theft, Jordan said.
Pinkham and Dube were arrested in May on charges that they sexually abused the child in early 2011, when the boy was 7. Now 9, the boy lives with a relative in rural Penobscot County and is related to the couple, according to court documents and information presented in court last year.
The Bangor Daily News is not naming the relationship between the defendant and the victim nor is the paper identifying the family he now lives with in order to avoid identifying him.
“These are the first cases where we’ve had time to really take a look at Jessica’s Law and see how it applied,” Roberts said of Pinkham and Dube. “In a typical child abuse case involving a sexual assault, the victim is the key witness, often, the only witness. Unlike in some cases, we had corroborating evidence and confessions in addition to the victim’s testimony.
“It is always desirable to avoid putting the child on the stand,” Roberts said when asked about making decisions over whether to go to trial or enter into a plea bargain. “A victim can be traumatized further by having to confront his or her abuser in court.”
In accepting the Severance plea bargain, Anderson said that prosecutors have the sole discretion on what charges to file and pursue and which to drop.
“If I’d been asked my opinion [of the plea bargain], I’d have said that pursuing the Class A gross sexual assault charges might be a little chancy, depending on how people testify,” the judge said. “The Class B charges [of unlawful sexual contact] seem quite provable. Seven years is in keeping with the kinds of sentences imposed in other cases where there were two victims.”
None of the victims were in court Monday or last month when Dube was sentenced.
Former state Sen. Debra Plowman of Hampden, herself a survivor of child sexual abuse, supported Maine’s version of Jessica’s Law. She said that Pinkham’s sentence would provide the victim, now 9, “the protection the Legislature meant to provide.”
She expressed disappointment over Severance’s sentence.
“With good time, this guy will be walking around the neighborhood again,” she said. “Children will only be safe for 15 months. I wish he could be kept off the streets longer. I believe that the longer the prison term, the safer the child will feel.”