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Pembroke man found guilty of attempting to sexually assault girl

A jury yesterday found a Pembroke man guilty of attempting to sexually assault an 8-year-old girl despite his attorney’s defense that Fred Chapman denied touching the girl, or having any intention of doing so, when he exposed his genitals to her.

Chapman, 52, was charged with the crime in May after the police said he lured the girl, who lives in his Broadway apartment building, into his basement after paying her and her brother $2 each to help rake the yard. The girl testified during a two-day trial in Merrimack County Superior Court that Chapman offered her an additional $5, which she was going to use to buy a gift for Mother’s Day.

The girl said Chapman directed her brother to work on the other side of the yard, then followed her into the basement where he told her the rake belonged. He shut the door behind them, the girl said.

There, the police said, Chapman asked the girl if she wanted to “do it” and pulled down his pants.

“(You said) ‘No Fred, please, I just want to live a normal life,” Prosecutor Rachel Harrington said to the girl. “What were you thinking in your head? What were you worried about?”

“That he was going to hurt me,” the girl, who is now 9, replied into the microphone, her head just visible over the witness stand.

The girl said she then told Chapman she was hungry, and he suggested she come get something to eat in his apartment.

“So you were thinking that you wanted to go tell your mom?” Harrington asked as the girl nodded her head and whispered a confirmation at each question. “Did you think that if you told him you wanted to get food that he might let you go? Were you worried about whether he was going to let you go or not? But you thought of that idea.”

The police said Chapman didn’t stop the girl as she went up the stairs and to her mother, who called the police.

In an interview with two Pembroke police officers after he was arrested two days later, Chapman initially denied that anything happened that day. During the interrogation, which the prosecutor played on a screen in court, Chapman said only that the girl went into the basement to return the rake.

But his story began to change. He went into the basement, too, Chapman admitted.

During the interview, one detective whom Chapman was becoming agitated by left the room.

“Believe me, I want to get to the bottom of this and this is your opportunity to tell me your side of the story,” Dawn Shea, the remaining detective, said as she assured Chapman that she wanted to help him.

Earlier in the interview, Shea had abruptly asked Chapman what he was wearing the day of the incident and specifically if he was wearing underwear. He had responded that he hadn’t been.

Now, Shea told him she already knew his answer to that question because the girl had told her that he wasn’t wearing any underwear when he exposed himself.

“Okay, you want the truth? I pulled my pants down. . . . I pulled my pants down and then I pulled them right back up,” Chapman said.

When Shea asked him why, Chapman became emotional.

“I don’t know, I guess I’m an idiot. . . . I’m sorry but I just, it hurts,” Chapman said, crying.

She asked him what hurt.

“My insides,” he said, rubbing his hands against his beard.

In the courtroom, a fresh-shaven Chapman watched the screen, rarely turning away. After the interview finished playing, his lawyers focused not on what Chapman had admitted to during the interrogation but what he had adamantly denied. Even after the officer who had made Chapman uncomfortable left the room, and after he felt at ease opening up to Shea, Chapman still said hadn’t closed the door to the basement.

“He was vulnerable. He cried. And yet he continued to say he didn’t do those other things. . . . He didn’t say ‘Do you want to do it?’ He didn’t offer her $5 to go into the basement. He continued to deny those things,” Emma Sisti, one of Chapman’s attorneys, said. “Why would he do that when he’s already made an admission to something that he knows is wrong?”

Sisti said that while the girl’s and Chapman’s stories are consistent on many facts, they diverge on the aspects that relate to the attempted sexual assault charge.

“They both agreed that Fred followed (her) to the basement to put the rake away,” Sisti said. “They both agreed that he never approached (her) when he had his pants down. They both agreed that he never asked (her) to touch him in any way. They both agreed that (she) didn’t in fact touch him in any way.”

But Harrington and Judge Richard McNamara both reminded the jury that state laws stipulate that in cases of sexual assault a victim’s testimony does not need to be corroborated.

If the jurors fully believed the girl’s testimony, that was enough for a conviction, Harrington said.

“The law recognizes what most of us already know, which is that these crimes don’t happen in front of people,” Harrington said. “They don’t happen out in the open. They happen in secrecy, when somebody has been separated from someone who would have protected them like (her brother) would have protected (the victim.) They happen in places where nobody sees what’s happening, like the basement of that building.”

After a short deliberation the jury found Chapman guilty of attempted felonious sexual assault and indecent exposure. The police had previously charged Chapman with prostitution because of the $5 they said he offered the girl to go into the basement, but that charge was dropped.

Chapman, who has been held on $50,000 cash bail since the charges were filed, has previously been on the state’s public sex offender registry in connection to a myriad of convictions. Chapman is not currently on the online registry, which does not include individuals who are incarcerated.

According to his criminal history previously included on the registry, Chapman has been convicted of disorderly conduct, simple assault, criminal mischief and criminal trespassing, among other crimes.

In 2005 he failed to register as a sex offender while living in Allenstown. Then in 2006 he was convicted of sexual assault when the police said he provided marijuana and ecstasy to a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old in exchange for sexual acts.

Chapman will be scheduled for a sentencing hearing on the charges at a later date.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @tricia_nadolny.)

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