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A Carmel man whose convictions were overturned last year by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court pleaded guilty Friday at the Penobscot Judicial Center to sexually assaulting a girl seven years ago when she was 10 years old.
Richard Joseph Watson, 36, was convicted in July 2015 of two counts of gross sexual assault and one count of unlawful sexual contact, all Class A crimes, and one count of visual sexual aggression against a child, a Class C crime. He was accused of buying a female relative a cellphone in exchange for sex, watching pornographic videos with her and showing her how to use sex toys.
On Friday, Watson pleaded guilty rather than go to trial again. He pleaded to one count each of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact, sexual aggression against a child and perjury.
Almy agreed to dismiss the second gross sexual assault charge in exchange for Watson’s pleas.
A sentencing date has not been set, but Superior Court Justice William Anderson said it would be held in late September.
The plea agreement calls for Assistant District Attorney R. Christopher Almy to recommend a sentence of 22 years in prison and 20 years of supervised release. Watson’s attorney, Jeffery Toothaker of Ellsworth, will be able to argue for a lesser sentence.
Watson told Superior Court Justice that he did not want to put the victim through another trial.
“I want to take responsibility for the conduct I committed against her,” he said. “I don’t want to put her through another trial. I just want to get this over with and have it over with.”
The victim did not attend Friday’s hearing but Almy said the victim, who testified at Watson’s trial, supports the plea agreement.
The perjury charge, a Class C crime, stemmed from his trial when Watson took the stand denied having sex with the victim. Watson later admitted to relatives that he sexually assaulted the girl.
In April 2020, the Maine supreme court found that Watson’s attorney, Robert Van Horn of Ellsworth, prejudiced jurors by playing the victim’s entire videotaped interview with police at the end of Watson’s jury trial. The girl testified before the video was played but was not recalled to the stand afterwards for cross examination.
“The decision to provide the jury with two opportunities to hear the victim describe the alleged abuse — in a manner so consistent that even trial counsel testified at the [post-conviction] hearing that it was ‘the same’ — unnecessarily bolstered her credibility,” Justice Joseph Jabar wrote for the state’s high court.
Defense attorneys have an obligation to try to discredit the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses, according to the ruling.
The defense’s trial strategy was to show that the girl made up the allegations so she could continue to live with her grandparents and not live with Watson.
Watson’s original convictions following the trial were upheld by the state’s high court in 2016, where the standard is, in part, whether court procedure was followed properly and whether judges erred in admitting evidence or in giving instructions to jurors.
The reversal came following an appeal of Watson’s post-conviction review in which his new attorney, David Paris of Bath, argued that Van Horn was ineffective at the trial.
District Court Judge John Lucy, who sentenced Watson in October 2015, found on May 30, 2019, that playing the police interview was not prejudicial to the jury and denied a motion to reverse the convictions. Justices on the state supreme court disagreed.
Since the original convictions were overturned, Watson has been held at the Penobscot County Jail unable to post $25,000 cash bail.
The maximum penalty for gross sexual assault with a child under the age of 12 is any number of years. The maximum penalty for a Class A unlawful sexual contact charge is up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 The Legislature has instructed judges to sentence defendants convicted of sexually assaulting children under the age of 12 to at least 20 years in prison. The maximum penalty for a Class C crime is five years in prison and fine of up to $5,000.