April 26, 2018
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Nebraska man gets 5 years for sexually assaulting niece in Maine in 1990

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A 65-year-old Nebraska man convicted earlier this year of sexually assaulting a young relative in Maine more than two decades ago was sentenced Friday at the Penobscot Judicial Center to 10 years in prison with all but five suspended followed by six years of probation.

Clarence Cote of Nemaha, Neb., was found guilty on two counts of gross sexual assault on his then-8-year-old niece in 1990. The jury deliberated for three hours on Jan. 17 following a two-day trial.

Cote did not address the court.

If he had committed the crimes more recently, Cote would have faced up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 on the Class A crimes. Because the crimes were committed in 1990, he faced a maximum sentence of 20 years, according to Michael Roberts, deputy district attorney for Penobscot County.

The victim urged Superior Court William Anderson to impose the maximum sentence.

The Bangor Daily News does not normally identify victims of sexual crimes, but the woman who was assaulted, Tina Dionne, 31, of East Millinocket, agreed to speak with the media after the trial concluded in January.

“I’m glad that I’m getting justice, and I’m glad that he can’t hurt anyone else,” Dionne told reporters outside the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor earlier this year.

She declined to speak with reporters Friday.

“The nightmares have never gone away,” she told Anderson shortly before he sentenced Cote. “I was always afraid Clarence would come back and hurt me. That fear increased when my daughter was born. I feared for her, too.”

Dionne said the last 2½ to 3 years since Cote was located by police and the prosecution was pending “have been pure hell.” She said she has suffered from depression, anger and hate.

Roberts said after the verdict in January that the case “came down to a he-said-she-said.”

There was little physical evidence presented in the case. Prosecutors relied mostly on the victim’s testimony and recollections of a tape recording of a police interview with the then-11-year-old girl. Police lost that tape at some point, which is why it could not be presented at trial.

In sentencing Cote, Anderson said that he had to balance the mitigating and aggravating factors in the case. The mitigating factors included the fact that except for this conviction, Cote had led a crime-free life and held a job. The aggravating factors, Anderson said, included the impact the crime had on the victim over a long period of time and the fact that Cote had not accepted responsibility for his actions.

Cote has been held at the Penobscot County Jail unable to post $50,000 cash bail set Dec. 14, 2012. That time will be applied to his sentence.

Roberts recommended Anderson sentence Cote to between 10 and 12 years in prison with all but five or six years suspended and an unspecified term of probation.

Defense attorney Stephen Smith of Bangor urged the judge to impose a sentence of 10 years with all but 2½ years suspended followed by four years of probation. Smith expressed concern about Cote’s health. The defendant was hospitalized while awaiting trial for heart problems.

“I think it’s a grave injustice that Mr. Cote was even prosecuted two decades after the allegations and after the state police lost a key piece of evidence,” Smith said Thursday in an email. “We believe the lost interview of the victim would have shed much light on the case.”

He said Friday that an appeal citing the lost tape would be filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Portland.

Roberts said outside the courthouse Friday that he was satisfied with the sentence Anderson imposed.

“I think it’s important that Maine does not have a statute of limitations in these cases because it allowed the victim to have closure when she might otherwise not have received it,” the prosecutor said.

After his release, Cote will be required to register as a sex offender for life. He also is prohibited from having contact with Dionne. He also may have no unsupervised contact with children under the age of 18. While on probation, Cote also must undergo sex offender treatment, the judge ordered.

BDN writer Nick McCrea contributed to this report.

To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.


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