PARIS – On Friday morning in Oxford County Superior Court, a former Rumford man pleaded guilty to raping and assaulting the 2-year-old girl whom he was left to baby-sit in September at a Rumford home.
Through his lawyer, Ron Hoffman, 20-year-old Steven Morton admitted that he had no clear memory of the Sept. 27 incident, because he was under the influence of drugs and beer.
Court Justice Robert E. Crowley stayed Morton’s sentencing until after completion of a presentencing evaluation and investigation, which are expected to take from six to eight weeks.
Morton faces a maximum 30 years in prison for gross sexual assault, a Class A felony, and a maximum 10 years on a Class B felony charge of aggravated assault. In 2003, Maine’s Legislature, following a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision, changed the maximum sentencing for Class A felonies from 40 to 30 years.
Morton was remanded back to York County Jail in Alfred, where he has been held without bail since November, due to threats made against him and his family. Those threats, which didn’t materialize, induced the court, on Friday, to add extra security.
Standing with Hoffman, Morton, head slightly bowed, pleaded guilty to the charges read by Crowley. Wearing orange prison clothing, Morton’s hands were handcuffed in front of him and attached to a wide leather belt around his waist. His feet were also shackled.
He showed little emotion.
Prosecutor Joe O’Connor said there would be no plea agreement, then suggested that Morton could get the maximum for both crimes, to run consecutively rather than concurrently. He then recited the evidence against Morton.
O’Connor said the toddler’s mother was at work, and had left the girl, and her two other young children at home with their father, who later called and said he had left his friend, Morton, to babysit the children.
When the mother arrived home, she couldn’t find the babysitter. Then, O’Connor said, she saw a man dressed only in wet underwear exit the toddler’s bedroom.
Alarmed, the woman checked on the child, whose “entire crotch area was covered by blood,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said the injured girl was taken to the Spurwink Child Abuse Program in Portland, because “she had serious vaginal injuries requiring sutures.”
Evidence taken from the girl’s diaper and urine revealed sperm and DNA cells from Morton, the prosecutor said.
“He had blood stains of the child on him that were identified by DNA,” O’Connor added.
When asked by Crowley, Morton, who shook his head from side to side occasionally while O’Connor read, didn’t dispute the evidence.
Hoffman responded, saying he had an independent DNA test done on the evidence, which verified the state’s DNA evidence.
“My client doesn’t have a clear memory of what happened,” he said.
“Based on the DNA, that night, he was taking Klonopin, marijuana and beer,” Hoffman added.
According to drugs.com, Klonopin is the trade name of Clonazepam, a highly potent anticonvulsant drug. It is commonly prescribed for among other things, epilepsy, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, chronic fatigue syndrome, and night terrors.
Side effects, the Web site states, can include drowsiness, nervousness, amnesia, and rage. Use of alcohol while taking the drug, greatly intensifies its effects and side effects, according to the Web site.
O’Connor declined to comment after the case was closed, but Rumford Detective Lt. George Cayer, who investigated the crime and arrested Morton, said outside the courtroom, that Maine’s maximum sentence doesn’t fit the crimes.
Worse he’s seen
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 26 years, and, this is the most heinous crime I’ve ever investigated,” Cayer said.
“Most parents of children and people who have toddlers that age would feel that life in prison would be sufficient. I know that in other countries, this type of crime would result in capital punishment. If he gets the maximum, in my opinion, that would not be enough,” he said.
Cayer said the investigation, arrest and indictment were quickly resolved, because Morton “was caught in the act.”
He also cited “good police work” from Rumford patrolmen who secured the scene, former detective now chief, Stacy Carter, the State Crime Lab, Department of Human Services, and Hannah Pressler of Spurwink.
“When I heard this (plea offering) was going on today, I wanted to be here in case he was sentenced,” Cayer said.
He intends to be at Morton’s sentencing hearing, at which he expects the little girl’s family and relatives victimized by the sex crimes, to read statements. They did not attend Friday’s proceedings.