Pittsfield man convicted on 10 counts of sexually assaulting his stepdaughter
Joshua Budgett of Pittsfield is on trial for sexually assaulting his step-daughter; Monday, April 9, 2013.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
A jury found Joshua Budgett of Pittsfield guilty of all 10 counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault against him after one hour of deliberation in Merrimack County Superior Court yesterday. He was immediately taken to the Merrimack County jail and will be sentenced April 30.
Budgett, 39, was convicted of assaulting his stepdaughter in their Pittsfield home repeatedly from September 2009 to April 2012, using multiple forms of penetration. Four of the 10 counts were for pattern sexual assault. The girl said it happened nearly twice a week and in every room of the house over that period. At the time, she was living in the home with Budgett, her mother and three younger siblings. The girl first reported the assaults in April 2012 to her boyfriend, then to a school counselor later that day.
Budgett is also a registered sex offender for two convictions of aggravated felonious sexual assault in 1994 with a victim under the age of 13. Under state law, someone with two previous convictions for aggravated felonious sexual assault could be sentenced to a lifetime in prison without parole.
When the verdict was read, the girl hugged her boyfriend and a family friend, as her mother, Shirley Budgett, sat with her head on the bench in front of her a few rows back. The two did not sit together during the trial, speak in the courtroom or leave the courthouse together. Shirley Budgett had testified the day before that she and the girl used to talk about everything, but their relationship changed after the allegations surfaced last year. She also said she did not want Joshua Budgett to go to jail for the rest of his life.
The girl’s credibility was the key issue in the trial, with the two attorneys painting different pictures of her motivations during closing statements. Defense attorney Andrew Winters tried to poke holes in her statements and show that the state hadn’t proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. But Deputy County Attorney Catherine Ruffle said the girl had no reason to lie and the evidence proved she was telling the truth.
Katie Swango, a criminalist with the state who specializes in forensics and serology, testified about DNA found on a rag that the police seized during a search of the family’s home in April 2012. The girl told authorities Budgett had cleaned himself with that rag and tossed it under a work bench after he had sex with her, shortly before she told people about the assault.
Swango tested two stains on the towel that contained seminal fluid and found the stains had a mixture of Budgett’s and the girl’s DNA. On Monday, Shirley Budgett had testified that she and Budgett had sex in the garage a few times and that he probably used a towel to clean up. But Swango said there was no evidence of Shirley Budgett’s DNA on the towel.
Swango said she couldn’t identify the source of the girl’s DNA and could not tell for how long the DNA had been on the towel. She did know, however, that the seminal fluid was Budgett’s, and that DNA from the two was mixed together.
“The DNA testimony is not nearly as incriminating as the prosecutor I think will suggest, because although the DNA was there, the DNA analyst can’t tell you anything about when the DNA was deposited,” Winters said during his closing arguments.
When Sgt. Richard Walter with the Pittsfield Police Department took the stand, Winters questioned why he had seized that particular rag in the garage and no others. Walter said it matched the description and location provided in the search warrant.
Kayla Page, the counselor whom the girl first told about the assaults, also testified. She said the girl was calm and clearheaded on the day she told her. The girl said she was worried about the safety of her mother and three younger siblings. Refreshing her memory with a copy of her initial report of the girl’s disclosure, provided by Winters, Page said the girl first told her the abuse began when she was 11. On Monday, the girl said it began when she was 13 or 14.
That discrepancy was one of several pieces of testimony Winters pointed at to say the state had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The girl said the assaults happened nearly 300 times, but that no one ever saw because her mother was always sleeping or in another room. Shirley Budgett testified that it was easy to hear things around the house, and she never saw or heard the two engaging in inappropriate behavior or acting suspiciously.
There “was a total of six people living on that one floor,” Winters said. “It would be incredibly brazen to try to pull off such a sexual assault repeatedly.”
Furthermore, he said, Swango’s testimony was not definitive enough to prove the mixed DNA on the towel came from sexual intercourse. He also pointed to the girl’s admittedly bad relationship with Budgett, who was always disciplining her and setting strict rules. She told her boyfriend and the counselor about the assaults the day after her boyfriend heard Budgett yelling at her.
“If you look at the genesis of how this report came forward, that makes a lot more sense of how a story like this could be fabricated in a teenage girl’s mind,” he said.
No reason to lie
But Ruffle said the girl’s dislike of Budgett wasn’t a reason to lie. She had made her own plans to get out, getting good grades in school and working two jobs to save money for college. She never told because Budgett had groomed her to believe that what was happening wasn’t wrong.
“He was smart, he was sneaky, he was controlling and he was manipulative,” Ruffle said.
The girl couldn’t remember every detail of the assaults because it had happened so many times, she said. The defense called the accusations unbelievable. But if the girl was lying, Ruffle said, she would be more likely to create a story that was simple and neat.
“Why would she make up an unbelievable story?” she asked the jury. “The reason is, she didn’t make up this story – she told you what happened in her life.”