Hatch accepts plea, avoids retrial
Former Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy Kenneth Hatch III pled no contest in a Knox County courthouse Friday to a charge of furnishing a place for a minor to consume liquor, a Class D misdemeanor. His other charges were dismissed with prejudice, meaning he cannot be retried on them.
The charge Hatch pled no contest to carries a penalty of a $1,000 fine. Assistant Attorney General John Risler had sought 10 days in jail, all suspended, with no probation, but Justice William Stokes said the misdemeanor charge did not allow for jail time, suspended or not. Hatch’s attorney said his client would pay the fine that day.
The deal came after a status conference Jan. 12. Hatch agreed to the plea after he was acquitted on two charges and the jury deadlocked on 20 others in November, involving sexual abuse of minors and aggravated furnishing of scheduled drugs.
At the time, Assistant Attorney General John Risler said he would hold status conferences after conferring with the major crimes division at the Attorney General’s Office and the alleged victims.
Hatch had been accused of 22 offenses, equally split between ones alleging sexual abuse and unlawful sexual contact with minors, and aggravated furnishing of scheduled drugs. After the mistrial, his bail was continued.
One of the alleged victims appeared to read a statement, and the main witness in the case, who lives out of state, asked her mother to read one for her. Both statements expressed betrayal and a feeling that justice was not served. “This sends a message that anyone, even a police officer, can touch a child and get away with it,” the alleged victim said in her statement. A counselor for a third victim said the situation “was very much a family betrayal.” Still, she said, she hoped “(the victims) realize how much coming forward and speaking out has strengthened them.”
While the alleged victims and their agents spoke, Hatch sat without expression, looking away.
Stokes, the trial judge, spoke to the professionalism and how hard the jury worked on the case in Kennebec County. “They were not only just of differing opinions, they were deeply, severely divided,” he said. “I don’t know that we could find a harder working jury than that, if the case had been retried.”
Risler said, based on having little confidence he would get a different verdict if the case was retried, his goal was to remove Hatch from being able to be a police officer in the future. “I felt I had to remove his ability to work in law enforcement. This verdict will decertify him at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which will prohibit him from working for any agency in Maine, and should also stop him from getting a job in law enforcement elsewhere.”