PORTLAND — The state’s highest court has affirmed the conviction of a Tremont man found guilty of sexually assaulting a young student while he was a teacher at the Tremont Consolidated School.
In a decision Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the March 16, 2016 conviction of Benjamin Hodgdon II in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court. Hodgdon had appealed his conviction on single counts of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact and sexual abuse of a minor. He was acquitted during his trial on other minor related charges.
On Tuesday, Hancock County District Attorney Matt Foster said he did not know how soon Hodgdon would have to report to authorities to begin serving his prison sentence.
During Hodgdon’s three-day trial in the Ellsworth courthouse, the now-adult victim took the stand to testify that he sexually assaulted her numerous times when she was 13 and 14 years old and a student at the Tremont school. Hodgdon at the time was a sixth-grade teacher and cross-country coach at the school.
Hodgdon was sentenced in August 2016 to 11 years in prison, with all but three-and-a-half years suspended on the Class A gross sexual assault charge. Hodgdon additionally was sentenced to serve concurrent three-year sentences on the charges of unlawful sexual contact and sexual abuse of a minor and is to serve six years probation upon his release.
Hodgdon filed two appeals with the state supreme court and has remained free on bail while those appeals were heard. The appeal of his sentence was denied earlier this year.
Hodgdon’s appeal of his conviction primarily hinged on whether the jury correctly made the distinction between whether his victim was 13 years old or age 14 when the criminal acts took place. Maine law regarding sex crimes is different for victims under the age of 14.
Hodgdon contended instructions to the trial jury that they must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the assaults took place “on or about” particular dates raised uncertainty about whether the victim was 13 or 14 at the time. As a result, the jury was able to return a guilty verdict on the gross sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact charges without finding the victim was under the age of 14, he argued.
The supreme court disagreed, noting that the lower court informed the jury several times of the requirement that they must find that the victim was under the age of 14 in order to return a guilty verdict on the charges.
“The jury was correctly informed of the relevant law and the state’s burden of proof,” the opinion states.
Hodgdon also was claiming that the time frames set in the charges against him were so broad “that it will expose him to double jeopardy because it is unclear on which evidence Hodgdon was convicted,” according to the opinion. The court acknowledged that the double jeopardy clauses in the federal and state constitutions are designed to prevent a defendant from standing trial a second time for the same offense but, citing case law, determined the time frame was not wide-ranging enough to raise double jeopardy concerns.
Hodgdon additionally argued that evidence presented by prosecutors at the trial did not support a guilty verdict because “jurors rationally could not have found” Hodgdon had sexual encounters with the young victim. The only evidence presented at the trial was the victim’s testimony regarding the assaults, the opinion notes, but there was “competent evidence” to support the jury’s guilty verdicts and the conviction of Hodgdon.