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Judge questions availability of sex offender treatment when sentencing woman for assaulting teen

At Merrimack County Superior Court lawyer Donna Brown speaks with Miranda Fraser after Fraser was sentenced to four concurrent sentences of two to seven years (with one year suspended)  for charges of felonious sexual assault on a 15-year old boy; Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Fraser pleaded guilty to the charges.

ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

At Merrimack County Superior Court lawyer Donna Brown speaks with Miranda Fraser after Fraser was sentenced to four concurrent sentences of two to seven years (with one year suspended) for charges of felonious sexual assault on a 15-year old boy; Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Fraser pleaded guilty to the charges. ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

A Merrimack County judge yesterday shaved a year off the minimum sentence given to a woman who sexually assaulted a teenage boy because he questioned whether she would get adequate sex offender treatment at the state women’s prison and wanted officials to have the option of assigning her to outside programs if needed.

“We have been informed that the opportunities for sexual offender treatment at the women’s facility are not the same as the opportunities for sexual offender treatment at the male facility,” Judge Larry Smukler said to Miranda Fraser at her sentencing in Merrimack County Superior Court. “If it’s not available and there’s an alternative . . . available to you outside of the walls, I don’t want to punish you by making you serve two years you would not otherwise serve . . . while a male would be getting treatment and you wouldn’t.”

A Department of Corrections spokesman, though, said Smukler is mistaken and Fraser will receive sex offender treatment if needed. Spokesman Jeff Lyons said there’s no wait list for treatment at the Goffstown prison, and while counselors aren’t assigned there full time – due to low demand and a lack of space – staff from the Concord men’s prison regularly travel there to lead programs.

The option of receiving treatment outside the prison was not included as a required element of Fraser’s sentence. Instead, Smukler suspended one year of her 2- to- 7-year sentence to give Department of Corrections officials the flexibility to release Fraser should they not be able to provide her with the necessary counseling within the prison.

Smukler said yesterday that if 33-year-old Fraser does take part in a one-year treatment program in Goffstown, she’ll likely serve at least two years there.

“I’m not cutting you any rent there,” he told her.

The police said Fraser had sex with her 15-year-old neighbor, a boy whose mother she was friends with, several times between November 2011 and February 2012.

She was sentenced yesterday after pleading guilty in February to four counts of felonious sexual assault as part of a capped plea deal in which prosecutor George Waldron agreed to not ask for more than the 2- to 7-year sentence.

Smukler, though, thought the prosecutor was asking for a light term.

“Two to seven is not a harsh sentence. It is on the lenient end,” Smukler said to Fraser. “And I think your attorneys recognize that or you wouldn’t have agreed to the (capped plea deal).”

But he added, while repeating that he wasn’t taking Fraser’s gender into account, that he found it to be an appropriate sentence for “this type of crime.”

Waldron said he treated the case “no different than if a 31-year-old male had sex with a 15-year-old girl.” But he acknowledged that the victim’s mother – who was not in court yesterday but has criticized the prosecutor’s handling of the case – did not agree with his recommendation. He said the woman wanted Fraser to receive the maximum sentence: four consecutive terms of 3½ to 7 years.

While Waldron said gender had no effect on how he approached the case, public defender Donna Brown encouraged Smukler to consider the fact that Fraser is a woman because studies show female sex offenders have a lower rate of recidivism.

Brown, who requested a 12-month sentence at the county jail with the possibility of Fraser serving the term on home confinement, also said male sex offenders are more likely to commit predatory crimes, while Fraser’s case was “situational.”

“It was someone who was in her orbit of people she had contact with. And text messages were sent and this happened,” Brown said. “That’s not to excuse it or to minimize it. But that’s something obviously the court can take into consideration in considering her future dangerousness.”

Brown also noted studies that have shown females who commit sexual offenses are usually suffering from a mental illness and said Fraser has been diagnosed with depression and social anxiety. She asked the judge to consider Fraser’s history, saying she became pregnant before starting ninth grade.

“It’s the only childhood she knew, being a mother through all of high school. And (she) was the exact age of the victim in this charge (when she had her first child). She definitely has some maturity issues, and those are a product of her mental illness,” Brown said.

In response, Smukler said he wouldn’t consider those factors “based on gender” but would consider them based on Fraser’s personal history.

“Have you documented a history of mental illness? Yes. Can I consider the risk of recidivism? Yes. But that has to do with you as an individual, not you as a woman,” Smukler said.

The judge noted that there are aggravating factors based on gender, too.

“In some ways, male victims of these types of crimes have a harder time than female victims because of cultural reasons having to do with what males are supposed to be thinking or feeling rather than what they’re actually feeling,” he said.

Fraser was prepared to read a brief statement yesterday, but her attorney read it instead when she was unable to get past the first word before breaking into tears. In the note, Fraser wrote that she had just started to understand how she had affected both her own and the victim’s families.

“I take full responsibility for my actions and all the things I’ve done, and I apologize for them,” Brown read from the note.

Smukler made clear, though, that Fraser hasn’t taken responsibility for all her crimes. While she pleaded guilty to all four counts, in an evaluation after the fact she only admitted to one of those charges.

Smukler told Fraser that he wouldn’t punish her for that because he recognizes that taking full accountability can be a process.

Fraser was taken into custody following the sentencing.

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

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