L/rain
50°
L/rain
Hi 50° | Lo 44°

Hartford Man Pleads Guilty to Sexual Assault Against Minor

  • Lucinda Smith, left, of White River Junction, is arraigned on July 24, 2012, at Windsor District Court. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Lucinda Smith, left, of White River Junction, is arraigned on July 24, 2012, at Windsor District Court. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

  • Steven Smith, of White River Junction, is arraigned on July 24, 2012, at Windsor District Court. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Steven Smith, of White River Junction, is arraigned on July 24, 2012, at Windsor District Court. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

  • Lucinda Smith, left, of White River Junction, is arraigned on July 24, 2012, at Windsor District Court. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Steven Smith, of White River Junction, is arraigned on July 24, 2012, at Windsor District Court. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

A Hartford man has pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual assault against a minor just weeks before his wife, whom authorities say engaged in the illegal acts with him, is scheduled to go on trial.

Steven D. Smith, 47, pleaded guilty recently to aggravated sex assault in a deal that calls for him to serve no more than 15 years in prison.

The agreement also lifts the final impediment for Smith to be compelled, if necessary, to testify against his wife. Lucinda Smith, 42, is scheduled to go on trial in October for charges of aggravated sex assault.

In an interview Tuesday, Deputy Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill acknowledged the benefit of having Smith available to testify against his wife, but said it was not the primary motivation behind the plea deal.

“The purpose of the plea agreement was to bring closure to the case for the victims and Mr. Smith, and spare the victims the pain of testifying,” Cahill said. “I think right now everyone is working through the collective consequences of Mr. Smith deciding to take responsibility for what he did.”

With his guilty plea, Smith can no longer invoke his fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination to avoid testifying during his wife’s trial. And while the rules of evidence generally allow spouses to refrain from testifying against each other, there are a handful of exceptions to the rule, including in certain cases involving children.

Smith will be formally sentenced at a later date in Windsor Superior Court — the tentative court schedule calls for that to happen after his wife’s scheduled trial. It will be a so called “contested” sentencing hearing: Attorneys agreed to cap Smith’s sentence at 15 years, but are free to argue for any length within that range.

The Smiths allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with an underage girl between December 2011 and January 2012, and, several years earlier, allegedly sexually assaulted a male victim who at the time was between 10 and 13, according to court documents.

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

Steven Smith’s attorney, Dan Maguire, of Essex Junction,Vt., did not respond to a message Tuesday.

Steven Smith is being held at the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury, Vt. His wife is being held at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, Vt.

As part of his plea deal, two felony charges against Smith were dropped.

After police executed search warrants and interviewed people familiar with the alleged perpetrators and victim in summer 2012, Lucinda and Steven Smith came to the Hartford Police Department and were interviewed separately.

Both of the Smiths initially denied the assault allegation, according to police. Lucinda Smith eventually corroborated most of the victim’s statements, according to court documents, but denied any participation.

Police said Steven Smith confessed to the assault allegation after Lucinda Smith corroborated the victim’s statements; Steven Smith and the victim maintained that Lucinda aided in the assault, police said.

The investigation was boosted when a man who had been hired to clean out the Smiths trailer home on Sargent Street called and said he had found videos inside the home that contained possible evidence.

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

CORRECTION

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. Hartford resident Steven Smith, who pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual assault against a minor, would not be able to invoke a rule that can allow spouses to refuse to testify against each other in his wife's upcoming trial. In certain cases involving children, a spouse can be compelled to testify. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that point.