Lengthy jail sentence imposed in city sex assault caseBy Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | December 01,2012A man convicted of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman in Rutland was sentenced Friday to serve eight to 50 years behind bars.
“This is one of the most serious crimes that we have,” Judge Cortland Corsones said before he sentenced 27-year-old Neiman Groce. “The crime affected all aspects of the victim’s life. In her words, Mr. Groce has to be held accountable for what he did.”
A Rutland jury found Groce guilty earlier this year of a felony count of sexual assault, no consent.
The four-year-old case, involving an assault that took place at a home on Lafayette Street in the city, concluded with a three-day trial in May.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Groce crept into an upstairs room where the woman was sleeping, sexually assaulted her and then pursued her into an adjoining room.
Groce didn’t deny having a sexual encounter with the woman; however, he told jurors that the acts were consensual. He also denied having intercourse with the woman.
The case against Groce was similar to charges brought against him in 2007 in Middlebury when prosecutors charged him with assaulting a woman passed out at a party.
Groce was acquitted of the charges in Middlebury. He has remained free on court-ordered conditions of release since his arrest in Rutland. He was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies at the end of the sentencing hearing Friday.
The woman who Groce assaulted sobbed while she described to the judge the damage that the assault had wrought on her life.
Before July 26, 2008, the woman said, she considered herself as a happy, outgoing and strong individual.
“After what happened I no longer recognize myself,” she said. “I’m scared and anxious all the time ... It’s been hard changing the negative thoughts and feelings about myself. I’ve struggled with doubt, guilt and shame.”
Rutland County Deputy State’s Attorney Kevin Klamm described Groce’s actions against the woman as the most extreme intrusion into a person’s life.
“He took what was not his in the most fundamental sense,” he said. “He took her well-being.”
Klamm asked the judge to sentence Groce to 12 years to 50 years behind bars based in part on what he said was Groce’s lack of remorse or acknowledgement that he had committed a crime.
But public defender Mary Kay Lanthier, who sought an eight-year to lifetime sentence all suspended with 18 months to serve in jail, said that since the trial Groce had been processing the verdict and had reached a “recognition, understanding and acceptance” of what took place four years ago.
At the start of his remarks to the court, Groce said he never realized the pain his conduct had brought to the woman.
“It was both eye-opening and powerful to hear how my actions affected someone else,” he said, choking back tears.
Groce blamed his conduct in part on alcohol — which he said he hasn’t used since the night of the incident. But he said alcohol was only part of the problem and he planned to involve himself fully in treatment programs during his incarceration.
“I want to come out of this a better person,” he said.
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