Man denies assault on elderly woman
ST. ALBANS CITY –– A hat with a corporate logo led police to arrest a city man who claims he “must have blacked out” when he allegedly tried to rape an elderly woman on Lower Welden Street last month.
Ervin W. Bessette, Jr., 50, claims to have no memory of entering an 82-year-old woman’s home during the night of May 26, climbing naked on top of her in bed, and then fleeing the scene after she swiftly faked a heart attack and woke a neighbor for help.
Wearing his hair in a ponytail, gray cargo shorts, and a short-sleeved plaid shirt, Bessette pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to burglary, lewd and lascivious conduct, and attempted sexual assault in connection with the incident. He faces up to life in prison and more than $25,000 in fines.
The state wanted Bessette held without bail, but Judge Greg Rainville set the amount at $100,000. It is unlikely Bessette can post that amount, or the minimum $10,000 in non-refundable cash to secure a bail bondsman. He lost his job on Monday as a janitor at the St. Albans Town Energizer plant, where he earned $9.75 an hour.
Rainville based the bail amount on Bessette’s lengthy criminal record and lack of employment.
“There’s an indication that he is a risk of flight,” the judge said.
Bessette also pleaded not guilty yesterday to a charge of possessing marijuana at a South Main Street residence on May 28, two days after the attempted rape occurred.
During that incident, a city police officer found Bessette drunk on someone’s porch. Bessette’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) was .265, more than three times the legal limit, according to court records.
Should Bessette post bail, he must return to court before he can be set free on conditions of release that prohibit him from driving, drinking alcohol, possessing regulated drugs without a prescription, and contacting his alleged victim. A 24-hour curfew is also possible.
“This is obviously a terrifying crime for the victim, with potential results that could have been worse,” said Franklin County State’s Attorney Jim Hughes.
City police arrested Bessette at his 285 Lake St. home yesterday, at 2 p.m. He was arraigned at Franklin District Court just more than two hours later.
Bessette – who has lived his entire life in Chittenden and Franklin counties – did not flee St. Albans after May 26, even though city police publicly said their key suspect was still in the area.
His victim was not in the courtroom yesterday.
The woman told city police she went to bed at 12:10 a.m. and later woke to a dirty, naked man on top of her. She asked him if he was sick, if he “believed in God and Jesus” – to which he did not respond – and then pulled his hair and ear as she talked to him.
The man allegedly made sexual advances, so she feigned a heart attack. He got off of her and asked if she had money or pills, as he stroked her arm and face.
She offered the man Tylenol or Advil – and something to eat – and said, “Please don’t look at me. I got my hair up in pin curls,” according to police.
“You are beautiful,” the man replied.
She told Bessette she could give him money, but that it was in her garage, where the suspect allegedly made his way into her home by breaking a window. En route, she surreptitiously grabbed a hammer from her hallway and held it in front of her, out of her assailant’s view, police said.
When the woman reached the bottom of the stairs, she saw the man’s clothes in her hallway. She ran outside screaming and banged on the neighbor’s house; the neighbor called 911.
The suspect dressed and fled, but he allegedly left some items behind, including a cigarette butt, matchbooks, a shirt, remnants of chewing tobacco, and a dark baseball hat with a green, stitched square on the front that contained the letters “HWT.”
Investigators learned the hat was from Hofmann Water Technologies Inc., a Connecticut water treatment firm that was performing contractual work at the St. Albans Energizer plant.
HWT gave hats to several employees, including Luke Cyr, who was deployed to Afghanistan last fall. Robert Burleson, another Energizer employee, told city police he and Cyr threw out the hat, because it did not fit either one of them.
Burleson said several days later, he saw a janitor walking around the plant, wearing the HWT hat he found in the trash.
On June 16, city police detectives Frank McCarty and Paul Morits asked Energizer for a list of its janitorial workers and later saw video footage of Bessette wearing the HWT hat while reporting to work on May 20. On June 7, after the attempted rape, Bessette wore a different hat.
On June 17, McCarty interviewed Bessette’s landlord, Sara Minor, who described the defendant’s consistent, unruly, drunken behavior. Often, Minor said, Bessette catcalled women from his driveway and urinated in it.
“He’s a very unstable man, especially when drinking,” Minor told McCarty.
Early that same afternoon, McCarty and Morits met with Bessette, who said he knew little about the attempted rape – only what he heard from his father-in-law, in Swanton.
“When I spoke with Bessette about the crime, he would not look at me and became very defensive in his actions and movements,” McCarty wrote in his affidavit. “With the continued conversation, I could see Bessette’s eyes start to water, and he kept on swallowing.”
On Monday, McCarty and Sgt. Jim Claremont, from the Northwest Unit for Special Investigations, again interviewed Bessette, who “had become visibly upset again, with his eyes becoming teary.”
When McCarty asked Bessette what made him enter the elderly woman’s home, he said, “I don’t know. I must have blacked out.” Bessette said he did not know the woman.
Bessette claimed he blacked out while picking nightcrawlers, an earthworm used for fishing, in the Lake Street area – a common activity for him, he said.
Bessette’s Vermont criminal record lists numerous convictions – the last in 1999 – for violating conditions of release, DUI, violating parole, and domestic assault.