Supreme Court reverses decision in former Raymond man's sex assault case
BRENTWOOD - A former Raymond man who was freed by a judge and given a new trial in a 1998 sexual assault case is headed back to state prison, and set to go on trial in April on new charges that surfaced months after his release.
County prosecutors were preparing to re-try Patrick Eschenbrenner, 51, on the 1998 case involving a young girl then begin a second trial on more recent charges accusing him of sexually assaulting a girl in Raymond between 2002 and 2007.
But the state Supreme Court on Friday reversed Judge Tina Nadeau's decision to grant Eschenbrenner a new trial, sending him back to state prison to serve 20 to 40 years behind bars.
A Rockingham County jury convicted Eschenbrenner in the first case in May 2008.
"I'm very happy to see that the Supreme Court viewed this case the same way this office did, and that this victim doesn't have to go through another trial," Assistant County Attorney Jerome Blanchard said.
Rockingham County prosecutors have been awaiting the high court's decision before trying the most recent set of charges filed in December 2011.
Eschenbrenner faces six counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and a single count of witness tampering when he goes on trial April 8 for his alleged abuse of a girl that started in 2002.
He has been held at the Rockingham County jail since his December 2011 arrest in Glenburne, Maine.
Nadeau decided in July 2011 that Eschenbrenner's conviction on three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault had to be upended because of testimony given by two Raymond police officers.
She concluded that the officers improperly conveyed to the jury that they believed the victim's allegations of sexual abuse.
Because the jury heard those opinions from the officers, Nadeau decided there was, "a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different."
Eschenbrenner claimed that his former attorney, Adam Bernstein, should have objected to the officer's testimony during the 2008 trial.
Police Officer Lori Stowell investigated the case in late 1998, submitted a report about the incident in February 1999, and took no further action - something she later said was a "mistake" on the witness stand.
In 2006, Raymond Detective Richard Labell re-opened the investigation that led to Eschenbrenner's arrest.
While fighting Eschenbrenner's call for a trial, Blanchard argued that prosecutors sought the testimony of the two officers to explain a seven-year gap in the investigation.
Bernstein testified during the 2011 hearing that he did not object to the testimony because the defense's theory was that the victim's testimony was not credible, and no official action against his client was taken for seven years.
"The trial court did not take due consideration to my testimony," Bernstein said on Friday. "It was a sound trial strategy based on the facts and circumstances of the case. The court, in their opinion, concluded that my trial strategy was sound."
After Nadeau's decision, Blanchard convinced the state Attorney General's Office to appeal her ruling.
Eschenbrenner faces up to 10 to 20 years in prison on each of the new sex assault charges.