A judge has ordered a Westbrook man to serve 2½ years in prison for hitting a man with his car last year.

Clemente Hernandez Photo courtesy of Cumberland County Sheriffs Office

Clemente Hernandez, 46, pleaded guilty in July to aggravated assault and reckless conduct. Both are felonies. He also pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, which is a misdemeanor. His full sentence was 10 years, but Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy suspended most of that time during a hearing at the Cumberland County Courthouse on Thursday.

As part of a plea deal, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss other charges, including attempted murder.

Assistant District Attorney Amanda Doherty sought more time physically in prison – six years – but the judge came down closer to the defense request of two years.

Kennedy said she saw many mitigating factors in the case, including Hernandez’s reputation as a family man, his lack of significant criminal history and his good behavior while in jail since his arrest. But she said she was concerned that he could not manage his anger that day in October 2018.

“On that day, Mr. Hernandez was out of character and out of control,” Kennedy said.

Hernandez has been held at the Cumberland County Jail for nearly a year, and that time will count toward his sentence.

According to court documents, Hernandez was driving a 1999 GMC Suburban on Oct. 18 when he spotted the victim walking near Pennell Street in Westbrook. Police said he veered over a curb and struck the man, leaving a dent in the hood of the vehicle.

The victim told police the last thing he remembered was hearing screeching tires. Court documents show that man did not sustain any broken bones or life-threatening injuries. The prosecutor said Hernandez then tried to cover up his involvement and repeatedly changed his story to police.

Both attorneys said there was a history of conflict between the two men over romantic relationships with the same woman. That woman spoke at the sentencing, tearfully telling the judge that Hernandez did not deserve to be in jail. His adult son also addressed the court and described his father as a hardworking man who supports his children.

The victim is currently serving a sentence at the Windham Correctional Center for theft and burglary, but he was allowed to attend the sentencing hearing and address the court. He told the judge he agreed with the decision to drop the attempted murder charge.

“I just feel obligated that I should speak and say my piece,” Scott Alfreds, 26, said. “I don’t think he should do life over this. I feel like he should do some time to learn that it shouldn’t have happened that way.”

Hernandez wrote a letter to the judge, and also spoke briefly in court.

“I just want to say I’m sorry for what I did, and sorry to the courts and sorry to my kids and sorry to my wife,” he said.

Doherty argued for a longer sentence because of what she called “very significant criminal thinking behavior.” While the victim’s injuries were not serious, she said they could have been, and she said Hernandez intended to hurt him.

“This was no accident,” she said. “This was purposeful and intentional behavior.”

Tina Heather Nadeau, who represents Hernandez, argued for a more lenient sentence because he does not have a recent or significant criminal record, and she said a psychological evaluation has shown he would be vulnerable in prison. She also said he and his partner lost parental rights to their children because of his incarceration, and she called him “the glue” that had held his family together.

“He’s lost more than the court could ever take away from him at this point,” she said. “A lot of people are hurting because of this.”

Hernandez nodded along with his attorney’s words. When the hearing ended, he huddled and whispered intently with his attorney to understand what had happened. The judge also ordered three years of probation, and Hernandez will not be allowed to have contact with Alfreds.

The prosecutor said later that she believed Hernandez should serve a longer sentence, and she worried about future contact between the two men while they are both incarcerated and after they are released.

“From my perspective, there wasn’t enough focus on the minimal acceptance of responsibility,” Doherty said.

The defense attorney described the situation as “sad and difficult.”

“Mr. Hernandez should not be defined solely by his reckless actions that day – he is so much more than these crimes,” Nadeau wrote in an email. “Prison does not rehabilitate: it traumatizes. We can only hope that Mr. Hernandez is minimally further traumatized by the sentence he now must serve.”

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