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Trial begins for sex offender facing new sexual assault charges

Joshua Budgett of Pittsfield listens to testimony  in Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, April 9, 2013.

(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

Joshua Budgett of Pittsfield listens to testimony in Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, April 9, 2013. (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

An 18-year-old girl testified yesterday in Merrimack County Superior Court that her stepfather sexually assaulted her many times over a period of nearly three years.

Joshua Budgett of Pittsfield was indicted last July on 10 counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, with four being pattern sexual assault charges. The alleged incidents took place between September 2009 and April 2012, when the girl was between the ages of 14 and 17. At the time, they were living at a home in Pittsfield with the girl’s mother (Budgett’s wife) and her three younger siblings. Budgett, 39, is a registered sex offender based on sexual assault convictions from a 1994 case, with a victim who was younger than 13 years old at the time. He has been out on bail since May.

On the stand yesterday, the girl said Budgett engaged in sexual activity with her using multiple forms of penetration almost twice a week. She also described Budgett as mean and said he did not make her feel loved. She never told her mother because she was afraid she wouldn’t believe her or would tell Budgett. On cross-examination, defense attorney Andrew Winters attempted to poke holes in her credibility. He focused on her unpleasant relationship with Budgett and expressed skepticism that the assaults could have taken place with no one in the family ever witnessing them.

The police first learned about the alleged assaults in April 2012, after the girl told her boyfriend and then a school counselor at his urging. The counselor immediately called the girl’s mother. The girl was taken to the Merrimack County Child Advocacy Center, where she gave a statement, then went to the hospital.

The first time Budgett assaulted her was after the two went to a Red Sox game together in 2009, she said. The assaults continued after that, she said, and happened in almost every room of the house until a few days before she reported it. Sometimes, her mother and siblings would be home and in other rooms, she said.

Deputy County Attorney Catherine Ruffle asked the girl to describe her relationship with Budgett. He could be mean and monitored her social activity, she said, including asking for her Facebook password and closely monitoring her cell phone activity. He, not her mother, was the one to hand down punishments. When she agreed to engage in sexual activity with him, the punishments would disappear or be less severe, she said, although she said she had no proof the two were directly related. On at least one occasion, Budgett told her he would give her money if she engaged in sexual activity with him, she said.

She asked her mother to divorce him on multiple occasions once the assaults began, she said. She described how she felt unloved and used by Budgett. Sometimes during an alleged assault, he would try to justify his behavior by quoting the Bible, she said.

“It would make me feel kind of like I wasn’t loved by him or wanted by him unless I was of some sexual use, (be)cause he wasn’t, like, the most pleasant person to be around otherwise,” she said.

On cross-examination, Winters questioned how no one else in the home ever saw the assaults if they were happening twice a week, which would be about 300 times over the course of three years. The girl said he would occasionally assault her on a mattress in the living room when her mother was asleep. If she had woken up and walked into the hallway, she would have “instantly” seen what was going on, the girl said, but she rarely got up during the night. Only once did a younger sibling try to enter her bedroom when an assault was occurring, but Budgett blocked the door with his foot, she said.

“Of all the approximately 300 times this happened in the house, there was never an instance your mom came in and almost caught Josh?” Winters asked.

When the girl’s mother later took the stand, she said she was a light sleeper and did get up and see the two watching movies in the living room several times, but that nothing inappropriate was happening. She testified that she never saw or heard Budgett and the girl engaging in sexual activity and never thought twice about leaving the two alone at the house.

In her original statement at the Child Advocacy Center, the girl said she was 11 when the assaults first occurred, but said on the stand they began in 2009 when she was 14, Winters noted. She also slightly changed her story about how often the assaults happened in the living room, he said.

Winters also focused on an incident that happened the night before the girl told her boyfriend about the assaults. The girl said she was not supposed to have boyfriends, and her parents limited how much she could talk on the phone. A few nights before she reported the alleged assaults, she had been on the phone with her boyfriend when Budgett came in and began yelling her. On the phone, her boyfriend asked why Budgett was so mean all of the time, the girl said.

“Isn’t it true you told (him) after you said Josh had been really mean to you the night before?” Winters asked.

The girl answered yes, and said she decided to tell her boyfriend because she wanted to have a relationship built on the truth. She said she rarely tried to fight Budgett’s rules and discipline because his motto was “I will always win.”

When the girl’s mother took the stand, prosecutors questioned her motives for wanting Budgett to be proven not guilty, including that he was the home’s only breadwinner. She teared up at several points throughout her testimony. She said she didn’t know what had been happening, but that she did not want Budgett to go to prison for the rest of his life.

“I can’t imagine anybody going to prison for the rest of their life and not just having the enjoyment of the only life that you get,” she said. Then she said she was “not demeaning or making less of anything that’s happened or whatever.”

She let Budgett discipline because the girl didn’t take her seriously, she said. She said she would frequently take trips to New York City with the other children, and she never thought twice about leaving the girl at home with Budgett.

Finally, Winters focused on the mother’s and Budgett’s own sexual relationship. The girl had testified earlier that she and Budgett once had sex in the garage, and he had cleaned up after with a rag from the work bench. During opening statements, Assistant County Attorney Kristin Vartanian said the state will call witnesses to the stand who will testify that rag was found in the spot the girl indicated and had DNA evidence to support her story.

The mother told Winters she and Budgett had had intercourse in the garage a few times, and he had likely used a rag to clean up, although she could not remember specifically. He asked whether she and Budgett talked about sex in front of the girl or the other children. The mother said they might make an occasional joke but she did not recall having discussions about it.

The trial reconvenes today at 9:30 a.m.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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