Recent Springfield High senior faces potential life sentences
Sexual assault investigations stretch back a year
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - A judge on Tuesday narrowly decided in favor of letting a Springfield teenager return to his parent’s home under a strict 24-hour-a-day curfew while he awaits trial on sexual assault charges that carry the potential for a sentence of up to life in prison.
Gregory Messer, 18, sat glumly in shackles at the defense table in the courtroom at the Windsor County Courthouse in downtown White River Junction as his defense attorney, Jordana Levine, entered innocent pleas on his behalf to five felony counts ranging from aggravated kidnapping in the commission of a sexual assault to committing repeated aggravated sexual assaults.
Three of those charges carry mandatory minimum sentences of at least 10 years in prison, if Messer were to be convicted of them, and each of the five counts provides for a potential life term on the maximum side.
While the term “kidnapping” brings to mind historical examples of elaborate abductions, under Vermont law someone can be considered kidnapped even if they are briefly forced from one room to another inside a residence for an illegal purpose, or if they are forcibly prevented from leaving somewhere they had already placed themselves once they are being subjected to something unlawful.
The allegations against Messer cover a series of alleged incidents, the most serious of which involve a 15-year-old girl, that allegedly began one year ago, when Messer, then 17, was just about to begin his senior year at Springfield High School.
Messer has since completed his senior year but did not graduate, a circumstance that Levine, his defense attorney, said in court she felt could be blamed on his having come down with mono earlier this year ,which she said looked like a stress reaction to the police investigation that began honing in on him this March.
Springfield Police Detective Sergeant Patrick Call wrote in an affidavit that several students were initially investigated after staff at the high school got wind that nude and partially nude photos of several female students were being shown around on phones and that an unknown person using a male pseudonym was purportedly asking boys at the school who had these photos to contribute them to a collection on a Facebook page.
That investigation, which is considered a “child pornography” case because many of the girls in question are underage, is still active and on-going, authorities said Tuesday but, while the individual with the apparently fictitious name who set up the Facebook page has yet to be identified or charged, Detective Call wrote that Greg Messer was the one person who kept coming up repeatedly in conversations with students as police worked to trace the origins of some of the photos.
Call said that several people, not all of whom were students at the school, reported that Messer had showed them photos hidden in a “secret vault” on his phone that was disguised as an ordinary calculator app but which, Call wrote, was eventually determined to have 140 explicit photographs in it, including a handful of shots that the putative victim had taken of herself posing in her underwear.
When investigators sat down with the girl and asked her how Messer had obtained the pictures, she said she'd never sent them to anyone and she felt Messer had gotten hold of her phone, which did not have password protection, when they were both at a mutual friend’s house and “airdropped” the pictures from her phone to his using a wireless connection.
Call said that when Messer was interviewed in the principal’s office in mid-March by the police the teen cooperated and turned over all 140 photos, which he described as a mix of “some of pornographic images from the Internet and some of school age girls that Gregory knew,” Messer insisted the girl had consensually sent him the images of herself.
Two days later, investigators conducted a “forensic interview” with the 15-year-old girl at the North Springfield Child Advocacy Center and that was when, Call wrote, she described what she said were three separate alleged sexual assaults that had taken place over the proceeding months.
The girl told police that she and Messer were never in a dating relationship and that a friend of hers was actually Messer’s girlfriend at the time of one of the alleged assaults which she said occurred inside a house when Messer’s girlfriend was in another part of the residence with some other teens.
In each instance, including two that took place inside Messer’s pickup truck after he had offered to give her a ride late in the evening, the girl said Messer began propositioning her to perform a sex act upon him and then, after she refused, allegedly ended up grabbing her and forcing her to do so, Detective Call wrote.
Call said that other teenagers who were subsequently interviewed as witnesses backed up at least some details of the girl’s account of events.
Detective Call interviewed Messer again in June, this time at the Springfield Police Department with Messer’s mother, who is a para-educator for Springfield’s school system, present alongside her son.
Call wrote that during the course of the interview Gregory Messer acknowledged that all three sexual encounters that the girl described had in fact occurred but Messer denied having used any force to get her to engage in them.
“I asked Gregory if he had any thoughts about (why she would claim it was nonconsensual),” the detective wrote, “He stated ‘Not really’.”
“I asked Gregory if he felt this type of sexual behavior is a problem for him,” Call continued, “He stated (it was) not a big problem but felt that it was something he could work on…Gregory advised he could put off these desires and was able to control them.”
Messer’s arraignment on Tuesday came about after he was arrested Monday evening on a warrant that was issued earlier in the day after he failed to show up at the original arraignment time for which he had been cited.
Defense Attorney Levine told Judge Robert Gerety that while the Messer family was aware police were investigating their son, he had not yet told them that he had in fact received a citation. Levine said the teen mis-read the date and thought his required court appearance was next week and added that he’d still been “working up the courage” to explain his situation to his parents when police appeared at their door.
On Tuesday afternoon, both of Messer’s parents and grandparents sat on a bench in the courtroom behind him, along with a family friend, before taking turns at the podium where they assured Judge Gerety that they would monitor the teen’s strict curfew conditions if he were to be released.
Windsor County Deputy State’s Attorney Heidi Remick urged the judge to hold Messer without bail pending his trial but Levine successfully argued that the teen's life-long multi-generational ties to the community lessened his chances of being considered a flight risk.
Judge Gerety agreed to release Messer under the terms of the curfew at the house where he has lived his entire life and after he signed for a $10,000 unsecured appearance bond.
Vermont News can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org