BARRE — A Granite City man accused of sexually assaulting a woman pleaded no contest to two amended charges in Washington County criminal court on Thursday.
Scott J. LaRochelle, 49, originally pleaded not guilty in Caledonia County criminal court in July 2017 to felony counts of sexual assault without consent and second-degree aggravated domestic assault. If he were convicted on the charges, he faced life in prison.
The domestic assault charge was a felony because LaRochelle has a previous domestic assault conviction. He was ordered held without bail at Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury.
In court on Thursday, LaRochelle faced amended charges of prohibited conduct-first offense-open and gross lewdness; and first-degree aggravated domestic assault. He pleaded no contest to both counts. At sentencing, he faces 16 years in prison, $25,300 in fines or both.
In explaining the amended charges, Washington County state’s attorney Rory Thibault said there would be “some evidentiary challenges” in a contested trial.
Thibault noted a big part of the prosecution’s case was the victim’s testimony. Initial efforts to serve a subpoena at the victim’s last known address were unsuccessful. She subsequently contacted the state’s attorney’s Facebook page and requested to call or come in to Thibault’s office, but no contact had been made yet. Victim’s advocate Denise Bailey was also unable to contact the victim via phone.
Thibault said over the course of multiple depositions, there were some inconsistencies in statements by the defendant, the victim and witnesses, but the physical evidence was “substantial.”
“So, I can state to you that this is a reasonable compromise with respect to public safety and having some record of conviction associated with the criminal act committed,” Thibault said of the amended charges.
“At this time, I can’t report on what the victim’s take on this is. Prior discussions with her contemplated a much longer-to-serve (sentence) that was based on the original charges,” he added.
Judge Mary L. Morrissey asked for a pre-sentencing hearing to be set for early May, and ordered LaRochelle to undergo a psychosexual evaluation by April 30.
Barre City Police Cpl. Jonathan Houle opened the case on July 18, 2017, when he was dispatched to Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin to speak to a possible victim of domestic assault that allegedly occurred at Highgate Apartments on Skyline Drive, court records say.
In a sworn affidavit, Houle said he recognized the victim from another domestic assault situation involving LaRochelle. The victim complained of pain and was upset and crying during the police interview, according to the affidavit.
According to Houle’s affidavit, the victim went to LaRochelle’s place to retrieve some belongings while a friend waited outside. LaRochelle locked the door and closed the blinds, then pushed the victim against the wall and put his hand on her throat, the affidavit said. She said he then punched her twice in the ribs before sexually assaulting her. He also threatened to kill her and himself, the affidavit says.
The woman said LaRochelle owns two guns. Houle spoke with LaRochelle, who he said seemed unconcerned about the allegations made against him. He said he closed the blinds because the woman wasn’t allowed in his building and he was afraid of losing his housing if she was seen there, the affidavit says. He denied sexually assaulting the victim and said he never puts his hands on women, court records say.
Houle said a records check showed LaRochelle was convicted of domestic assault in 2000.