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More Charges Possible: Sexual Assault Suspect Appears in Court

Donald Hamel, 71, of Lebanon, enters the courtroom at Lebanon Circuit Court for a  probable cause hearing yesterday. Hamel was been charged with nine counts of aggravated sexual assault. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Donald Hamel, 71, of Lebanon, enters the courtroom at Lebanon Circuit Court for a probable cause hearing yesterday. Hamel was been charged with nine counts of aggravated sexual assault. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

Authorities are still investigating whether there are additional victims of a 71-year-old Lebanon man charged with raping three young girls during the past six years.

Donald S. Hamel, 71, made a brief appearance in Lebanon Circuit Court yesterday, and waived his right to contest the evidence — which remains sealed — that police have gathered against him in support of nine charges of aggravated sexual assault involving three alleged victims.

During the hearing, Lebanon Police Lt. Matt Isham said police are still investigating Hamel, who had no criminal record and apparently lived quietly on Riverdale Parkway before an investigation began in late May and quickly yielded nine felony charges of aggravated sexual assault.

Isham opposed a defense attorney’s request to reduce Hamel’s bail, and asked Judge Albert Cirone to keep it at the relatively high amount of $100,000 cash.

“This investigation is continuing,” Isham said. “Whether there are additional victims out there, the only person who knows ... is Mr. Hamel, so he is a threat if he is released.”

Hamel’s public defender, Adam Hescock, asked bail to be set at $20,000, which Hamel initially posted before a judge raised it to $100,000 — its current level — last week.

Hescock cited Hamel’s lack of a prior criminal record, and ties to the community — Hamel has lived in the area his whole life, Hescock said, and held a job for more than 20 years.

“He has very strong ties to the area,” Hescock told Judge Albert Cirone.

Cirone kept the bail at $100,000 cash, and Hamel was returned to the Grafton County jail. The judge did not explain his decision.

Hescock declined to comment after the hearing.

Also yesterday, lawyers clarified the time frame in which the alleged acts occurred. For seven of the nine charges, covering two of the victims, the initial court documents said the alleged incidents occurred between 2001 and 2013. Isham yesterday amended the charges to run from 2007 to 2013.

The victims are now 13, 11 and 7 years old. As a general practice, the Valley News does not identify victims of alleged sex crimes.

In sexual assault cases in which the victim is underage, charges can be filed until the victim’s 40th birthday. Aggravated sexual assault carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Relatives of the victims’ declined to comment after the hearing.

Affidavits detailing the investigation remain sealed.

While waiting in a holding cell, Hamel was apparently reluctant to enter the courtroom yesterday. When he was supposed to make his initial entrance, a sheriff’s deputy instead walked into court and summoned Hescock back to the cell.

Lawyers then held two bench conferences, before Cirone ordered Hamel into the courtroom.

Hamel appeared nervous, exhaling slowly and shaking his head several times, and answered a quiet “yes,” when Cirone asked him if he understood basic elements of the legal process.

The case will now be sent to Grafton County Superior Court, where prosecutors seek grand jury indictments of defendants. In New Hampshire, defendants do not enter pleas to felony charges unless they are indicted by a grand jury.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.