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Pittsfield man who sexually assaulted stepdaughter sentenced to 30 years

Joshua Budgett of Pittsfield is on trial for sexually assaulting his step-daughter; Monday, April 9, 2013.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

Joshua Budgett of Pittsfield is on trial for sexually assaulting his step-daughter; Monday, April 9, 2013.

(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

Joshua Budgett’s victim questioned at his sentencing yesterday how the man she was meant to trust, her stepfather, could have abused her, forcing her to have sex with him hundreds of times while her mother was asleep or in another room. A moment later, though, the woman said she still wonders whether it may have been her fault.

Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler called that one of the harms in Budgett’s crime yesterday, and he reminded the Pittsfield man that all of the blame is on him.

“You’re the one who did it and (she) is the one that feels the guilt,” the judge told Budgett. “I want to state as clearly as I can for my sentence and right here on the record that all of the guilt of these crimes are on your shoulders and none of the guilt, none whatsoever for anything, is on (hers).”

Smukler handed down a sentence of between 30 and 120 years in prison, giving him a minimum term between what the defense and prosecution had sought. Budgett – whose sentence took into account his prior conviction for sexually assaulting a 9-year-old child when he was in his teens – will be eligible for parole when he is about 70 years old.

Budgett was convicted after a two-day trial in April of 10 counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault for incidents prosecutors said took place between 2009 and 2012. The abuse was physical but also mental, said Deputy Merrimack County Attorney Catherine Ruffle, adding that Budgett manipulated his now-18-year-old stepdaughter, punishing her if she didn’t do as he said and paying her to have sex with him.

Unlike many sexual assault trials where the victims’ testimony is the only substantial evidence, prosecutors in this case also presented DNA evidence in the form of a rag that an expert testified had both Budgett’s and his stepdaughter’s DNA on it.

At yesterday’s hearing, the victim sat beside her mother, Budgett’s wife. But the two moved to the same row in the courtroom only after the judge gave approval for them to have contact.

According to the Concord police, Shirley Budgett was recently charged with felony-level witness tampering after the police said she pressured her daughter not to testify against her husband. Under her bail conditions, Shirley Budgett is not allowed to have contact with her daughter.

Yesterday, without mentioning the charges against her mother, the victim said it was a “pity” that the situation painted the woman in a bad light. She called her a “great mother,” a stark contrast to the trial when the mother and daughter sat apart in the courtroom and came and went from the building separately.

Shirley Budgett didn’t speak at yesterday’s hearing, but at the trial she testified that she didn’t want her husband, whom she married when her daughter was about 3 years old, to be incarcerated for the rest of his life.

‘I don’t want them to have to suffer’

Ruffle said yesterday that the victim was brave to come forward and told the judge that she did so fearing her stepfather would find new victims, possibly her younger siblings, after she graduated high school and moved out of the home. His behavior was escalating, Ruffle said, and Budgett had recently asked his stepdaughter about having sex with her and one of her friends at the same time.

“Her concern was that she was not going to be the only one,” Ruffle said. “We heard the testimony about how hard she was working in school. She was working jobs to save money. She had a plan. She knew that it was only a period of time before she would be able to escape his abuse. But then her thoughts turned to who might be next.”

The victim spoke about her siblings yesterday, but expressed sadness, not relief, that they would have less contact with Budgett.

“I know how I felt not getting the proper dad attention and realizing that the kids won’t have that, my siblings, that was a big deal for me,” she said. “Because I don’t want them to have to suffer for this. But they’re going to.”

‘I let you down, and I failed’

As she spoke, Budgett’s eyes moved from being locked on her to the table in front of him. He shifted in his seat, then began to cry as she struggled to talk through tears. When he was given his chance to address the judge, he took a deep breath, cleared his throat and turned instead to the back of the courtroom.

And for the first time, he apologized.

“I remember the first time you called me, ‘Dad.’ And that was such a great feeling because no one had ever called me dad before,” He said. “You trusted me with raising you as my daughter and you trusted me to protect you, to give you hope in a dad that you never had. And I let you down, and I failed.”

Budgett’s lawyer, Andrew Winters, asked the judge yesterday to sentence Budgett to 10 to 30 years, with the possibility of suspending three years of the minimum if he completed sex offender treatment. Winters said Budgett has done that before, and that after his last incarceration he went on to complete college and get a master’s degree in engineering. He called it “extraordinarily rare” for a person who has been behind bars to see such professional success after finishing his sentence.

Smukler thanked Budgett for making his apology yesterday, then almost immediately said he couldn’t judge whether it was sincere.

“I don’t know what’s in your head,” he said. “I don’t know if you mean it. I don’t know if you’re just saying it for sentencing.”

Whether genuine or not, the judge said he hoped it would help the victim heal and realize her stepfather is to blame. He told Budgett that he stole the woman’s childhood.

“For what? That’s the other thing,” Smukler asked. “Why? For what did you steal her childhood? For your own selfish sexual gratification.”

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

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