Hartford Man Withdraws Guilty Plea in Sexual Assault Case

White River Junction — A Hartford man who pleaded guilty last fall to two counts of sexual assault has filed a motion to withdraw his plea, following suit with his wife, who also requested to withdraw her plea earlier this year to similar charges.

Steven D. Smith, 47, agreed to a plea deal in September that capped his sentence at 15 years in prison, and two felony counts were dropped.

Smith’s wife, 43-year-old Lucinda V. Smith, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of sexual assault of a minor in October.

After the Smiths entered their guilty pleas, the court ordered an investigation report be completed prior to sentencing. The report is meant for the judge’s use and can include background information about the defendant and victim statement.

In the meantime, Lucinda Smith filed a motion to withdraw her plea in February and Steven Smith filed a motion in March. Steven Smith has a motion hearing scheduled for June 3 in Windsor Superior Court.

In the motion to withdraw his plea, which Smith filed himself, he said the plea was “entered into by coercion by defense counsel and the prosecution.”

Smith claims that the prosecution, through his defense counsel, warned that if he does not enter into the plea agreement, the prosecution would try to have the defendant incarcerated for life.

“Thus the defendant, at the time of his plea, was absolutely terrified of the prosecutor’s threat,” Smith wrote.

Smith also writes that his defense counsel told him that juries in sex offense cases are automatically biased.

Smith has also filed a motion to terminate his counsel. His attorney, Daniel Maguire, declined to comment.

Deputy Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said that if the court grants Steven Smith’s motion to withdraw his plea, then he will be entitled to a trial.

“We will leave it to the court to determine the merits of Mr. Smith’s allegations against the police, the prosecution and his own attorney,” Cahill said.

Cahill said defendants don’t request to withdraw their pleas often in criminal cases.

“But in cases involving an alleged sex offense,” Cahill said, “Vermont law requires a lengthy pre-sentence investigation between plea and sentencing and it creates months between plea and sentencing and that gap of time allows the defendant ample opportunity to second guess past decisions.”

Lucinda Smith’s previous attorney, Robert Katims, withdrew as her attorney when she filed a motion to change her plea. She has since acquired David Sleigh.

At an April 15 status conference, Judge Karen Carroll requested more information about the reasons behind Lucinda Smith’s request.

Sleigh said he will soon be filing a supplement to Lucinda Smith’s motion to withdraw her plea.

The Smiths were first charged with sexual assault in July 2012 after the Department for Children and Families first notified authorities of a possible assault of a girl. Additional charges were added after a male victim came forward in November 2012.

As a general practice, the Valley News does not identify victims of sex crimes.

Both Smiths are currently being held in separate Vermont prisons.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.