LACONIA — A former Belmont man will spend at least 17½ years in prison after being sentenced to repeatedly sexually assaulting an adolescent girl over five years, in what the judge likened to stealing her childhood.
Keith Chandler, 46, was sentenced Thursday to five to 10 years on four counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, with the possibility of having 2½ years of the minimum sentenced suspended if he successfully completes a sexual offender program. The sentences will be served consecutively.
In addition, Chandler received suspended sentences on five other sexual assault charges. The sentence on three of those charges is three to six years, and two to four years on the remaining two charges. If these sentences are ever imposed they too would run consecutively.
“Mr. Chandler, you essentially stole a young woman’s childhood,” Judge James D. O’Neill III said before imposing sentence. “Nothing I can say or do today can remedy that. You violated a trust that is essential to the preservation of our society. … This cannot be condoned and must be dealt with with substantial punitive response.”
Chandler was convicted of the charges on April 11 after a 2½-day jury trial. The jury deliberated for about four hours before returning a guilty verdict on all counts.
Except for the conditional 2½-year suspension, the sentence handed down was the same as what the prosecution argued for. Chandler’s attorney, Caroline Brown, had asked for a shorter time in prison — 10 to 20 years.
In making his sentencing recommendation, Belknap County Attorney Andrew Livernois said Chandler had committed “various forms of sexual abuse” when the victim was between 11 and 16 years old, while she was a member of Chandler’s household.
“She will suffer the scars of this for the rest of her life,” he told the court, as the victim and members of her family and members of Chandler’s family listened from the gallery in Belknap Superior Court.
The prosecutor called Chandler’s behavior at the time of the offenses “brazen,” noting that he repeatedly lied to authorities, including the Department of Children, Youth and Families, who interviewed Chandler and other household members about possible sexual assault. Livernois said Chandler even went so far as to send the victim obscene text messages and pornography.
“I will never know what I could have been,” the victim — now 19 — told the court. She said because of the trauma of the assaults and its after-effects, she has trouble at work and is unable to have normal relationships with other people, especially men.
“He took away 14 years of happiness,” she said, “He took away my self-confidence, my trust, my happiness and my self-respect.”
Chandler’s attorney argued for a lesser sentence than what the county attorney was requesting.
“Ten to 20 years in New Hampshire State Prison is not insignificant amount of time,” Brown said, noting that the 20 to 40 years the prosecution was seeking was more in line with the sentence for a homicide case.
She said Chandler’s lack of prior criminal record, his former involvement in his community – including serving as a volunteer firefighter – and multiple health problems including gout and osteoarthritis were all mitigating factors to justify a shorter sentence.
Wearing a green inmate jumpsuit and constrained by handcuffs and leg shackles, Chandler did not speak during the proceeding except to say that he understood the sentences that had been imposed.
Chandler will be given credit for the 30 days he had already spent in the Belknap County Corrections facility where he has been held since his conviction.