WEST BATH — A Topsham man and former postmaster was sentenced to 10 years in prison in West Bath District Court on Wednesday after pleading guilty in June to sexually assaulting a female minor over a period of eight years.
Robert Welch, 63, pleaded guilty in June to four counts of unlawful sexual contact and two counts of gross sexual assault as part of a plea deal. All but one of the counts are Class B felonies subject to 10 years incarceration. One count of unlawful sexual contact is a Class C crime punishable by up to 5 years.
The abuse took place between 2008 and 2017, and started when the victim was 7 years old and occurred regularly, according to Sagadahoc County District Attorney Jonathan Liberman.
Following the sentencing, Welch was taken to Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, where he was to be transferred to the Maine Department of
Topsham police arrested Welch on June 5, 2017, and initially charged him with gross sexual assault for allegedly engaging in a sexual act with a person under 18, court documents show. He was released on bail later that month.
In August 2017, he was indicted by a Sagadahoc County grand jury on 20 sex crime charges, including 10 counts of unlawful sexual contact and 10 counts of gross sexual assault. As part of the plea agreement, all but six charges were dismissed.
Liberman asked Justice Daniel Billings for an overall sentence of 20 years, with up to 12 years of time served and six years of probation.
Billings did issue an overall sentence of 20 years, but with all but 10 years suspended and six years of probation.
Upon his release, Welch will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He will undergo sex offender treatment and is prohibited from contact of children under the age of 16, from having any sexually explicit materials, and is subject to random search for electronic devices with internet access or storage capability. He is also prohibited from being present at schools, school functions, recreation fields, parks or facilitates that cater to children, or at extracurricular functions catering to children.
“I can only imagine how difficult it is in a case like this when you’re essentially asked to come up with a sentence that fits with two people,” Liberman said. “And I say that because there’s the Robert Welch that he held up to the public and the life that he lived publicly; and then there’s the Robert Welch behind closed doors.”
Liberman said in public, Welch was trusted in the community, formerly the postmaster in Topsham and someone who served in the Army before honorably discharged. Welch lacked any convictions on his criminal record.
“He was someone loved and trusted by his family members and he was someone who was liked and trusted by co-workers,” Liberman said.
There was also some evidence of psychological abuse of the victim by Welch, Liberman said. The victim suffers from a generalized anxiety disorder as well as post traumatic stress disorder. The victim blames herself in part for the damage this has done, Liberman added, “even though she was innocent and did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Welch’s lawyer, Gerard Conley, asked for a sentence of only five years in prison. Conley said he hasn’t had a client more compliant with rules and regulations, and who has done all he’s been asked to.
“He is a person worthy of redemption and of the court’s mercy, just looking at what he has done since these terrible acts have come to light,” Conley said.
Conley later declined to comment on the outcome of the sentencing.
Liberman said he was “very happy with the work of the Topsham Police Department and I’m very thankful that they were able to investigate this case and give us what we needed to get this result.”