WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - A Vietnam veteran is facing a potential life sentence following an investigation by the Vermont State Police into allegations that he drove a younger woman to a closed rest area alongside Interstate 91 back in April and had sex with her against her will.
John Chenier, 68, of Chester pleaded innocent this past week to a single felony count of aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault, a charge which carries an automatic 10-year minimum and a potential maximum sentence of up to life in prison, if he were to be convicted.
The woman reported the incident to police in May saying that her father, who is also a military veteran, knew Chenier so she considered him a family friend.
John Chenier, 68, of Chester served in the Marines and then the Army and entered the courtroom with a service dog
The woman later told police that she and Chenier met at McDonalds one afternoon and had a conversation during which she said Chenier made some remarks about his own sex life before asking her if she would be willing to help him go collect some scrap metal.
The woman said that Chenier arranged to pick her up near the Plaza a few minutes later. She added that as soon as she hopped into the backseat of Chenier’s pickup truck she noticed that it had been made into a makeshift bed.
The woman told police that Chenier locked all the doors when she got into the truck and that he drove her straight out of town and to the abandoned rest area on the interstate.
The putative victim said she was not physically hurt and explained that “she never said ‘No’ or tried to resist Chenier physically because she was fearful of him and what he might do if she did,” knowing that he was a combat veteran, Detective Sgt. Eric Albright wrote in an affidavit filed with the court.
The woman told the detective that she had suffered emotionally as a result of the alleged assault and felt “horrible” whenever she had to drive past the former rest area in the months that followed.
Detective Albright wrote that investigators were able to corroborate parts of the woman’s account using security camera video taken at McDonalds and other businesses at the nearby Springfield Shopping Plaza.
Police also photographed tire impressions, shoe prints and a plastic McDonalds cup that were found at the closed Springfield rest area near the spot where the woman said Chenier had parked his truck.
The day after the alleged assault the woman went to Springfield Hospital where a nurse recovered a DNA sample and approximately a week later police seized Chenier’s pickup truck and searched it.
Inside the truck police reported finding several blankets and bedding in the backseat along with paper napkins and other items containing potential evidence that were sent to the state forensic laboratory for testing.
In June, a judge granted police a “non-testimonial” search warrant that allowed them to take a DNA reference sample from Chenier.
Detective Albright wrote that sample was later positively matched to the DNA evidence collected at the hospital. The state lab put the odds of some random person other than Chenier being the source of that DNA at 1-in-293 billion (there are only seven billion people on the planet).
Detective Albright wrote that when he went to interview Chenier about the allegations Chenier acknowledged that he knew the woman but then invoked his right to a lawyer and declined to answer any further questions.
Although prosecutors asked to have Chenier held without bail, Judge Timothy Tomasi agreed to release Chenier to the custody of his wife on the condition that he observe a strict 24-hour-a-day curfew inside his house unless he is accompanied by his wife or traveling directly to and from medical appointments at the VA Hospital in White River Junction.
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