The state supreme court has thrown out the last remaining conviction against a former Tremont teacher convicted in 2016 of sexually assaulting a girl, citing ineffective representation by his lawyer at his trial.
With the Law Court’s decision on Thursday, Benjamin H. Hodgdon, 53, is “a completely free man,” his defense attorney, Jeremy Pratt of Camden, said Thursday.
Hodgdon’s case, which had resulted in convictions for one count each of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact and sexual abuse of a minor, could be prosecuted again by Hancock County District Attorney Matthew Foster. Hodgdon had faced eight various charges related to the accusations, but was acquitted of five of them at his trial.
A former sixth grade teacher and cross country coach at Tremont Consolidated School, Hodgdon had been accused by one of his former students of sexually assaulting her dozens of times when she was in eighth grade and a member of the cross-country team.
Hodgdon, who served more than three years in prison for the now-thrown out convictions before his release last summer, said Friday that he is “pleased with the decision.” Though he already has served his time behind bars, Thursday’s court decision removes other orders that were imposed on Hodgdon in 2016, such as serving probation, not having contact with children and registering as a sex offender.
“It feels pretty good right now to know these convictions have been thrown out,” Hodgdon said. But he added that he and his family are preparing for the possibility that Foster, who became district attorney in the fall of 2014 — after his predecessor filed charges against Hodgdon — might decide to reprosecute the case.
Foster said Friday he had not yet discussed the matter with Hodgdon’s accuser, and so does not know yet if he will file charges again against the former teacher.
“Previously, she wanted us to prosecute and we would be willing to do so if she wants that,” Foster said.
In March 2020, after Hodgdon filed for a post-conviction review of his case in Hancock County, Justice Robert Murray, who had presided over the trial, vacated Hodgdon’s convictions on unlawful sexual contact and sexual abuse of a minor on the grounds that his trial attorney, David Van Dyke, had been ineffective at trial in defending Hodgdon against those two charges.
In its unanimous decision on Thursday, the Law Court agreed that Van Dyke was ineffective in his representation of Hodgdon, and that the gross sexual assault conviction against Hodgdon also should be vacated. Van Dyke, who has since passed away, introduced evidence at the trial that included claims prejudicial against Hodgdon.
Van Dyke had introduced the entire police transcript and recording of an interview Hancock County Detective Steve McFarland had with the woman who accused Hodgdon of assaulting her, in hopes that the transcript and recording would show that what she had told police was inconsistent with her trial testimony.
But much of the transcript and recording showed that her statements to police were consistent with her trial testimony, and they contained accusations that Hodgdon had engaged in inappropriate behavior with other students. That information was not germane to the specific allegations at Hodgdon’s trial and would not have been shared with the jury if his attorney had not introduced the entire transcript and recording of the police interview.
“The introduction of otherwise inadmissible evidence — to the effect that Hodgdon had engaged in a pattern of sexual predation upon students that resulted in his losing his job — that was extremely damaging to the defense,” the Law Court wrote in its decision.
Hodgdon said Friday, however, that the real issue in his case is not what Van Dyke did at his trial, but the way the district attorney’s office handled the allegations related to his charges. He said the accusations were false, that investigators knew early on that there was no physical evidence against him and that his accuser wasn’t credible, and that they mishandled evidence and other information in the case.
Hodgdon said his accuser had surreptitiously recorded a video of him on her phone when she confronted him about her accusations and later gave the phone, which contained an edited version of that video, to investigators. Hodgdon told investigators that the unedited version of that video contained exculpatory evidence, but investigators returned the phone to his accuser without duplicating the relevant information on the phone, allowing her to destroy the original video and other information it contained even though those things could have helped in his defense.
“Moving forward, the focus has to shift” to that and other aspects of how the prosecution handled his case, Hodgdon said.
Pratt, Hodgdon’s attorney, said he had cautioned his client against holding out too much hope that the court would throw out his last remaining conviction.
“These are so rarely granted,” Pratt said. “It is too bad he had to serve multiple years in prison before this happened.”
Bill Hodgdon, Ben Hodgdon’s brother, also was critical of how the case was handled, and said that there was enough doubt about the case from the get-go that his brother never should have been prosecuted in the first place.
“I don’t know how you get that back,” he said of the three-plus years his brother served behind bars. “It’s a kangaroo court system that needs to be changed.”