Man charged with confining stepson for sex

July 8, 2009 1:36:54 PM PDT
A man sexually abused his stepson for years, threatened him, regularly denied him food and water, and confined him to a bedroom with a homemade alarm system for such long periods that the boy said he resorted to urinating into a wall-mounted telephone jack, authorities said. The boy, who lived with the man for almost six years and is now 17, told police his stepfather, Robert J. Pratt, sent him to school in long-sleeved shirts and pants so no one would see his bruises and scars.

He came forward after Pratt, 37, of Bennington, kicked him out of the apartment they shared and he moved in with his mother, who lived in the same apartment complex.

Once there, he told her and a counselor about his life with Pratt. He had moved in with him when he was 10 or 11 years old, when Pratt and the mother split up. He said he never told anyone of the abuse because Pratt threatened him.

Investigators, trying to verify the boy's claims, had the boy wear a wire to record a conversation with Pratt. In that conversation, the victim asked Pratt why he sexually abused him.

"I have tried to block that out," Pratt replied.

When questioned by police, Pratt didn't deny the sexual activity but attributed it to the victim's "desires," according to an affidavit by Vermont State Police Trooper Tyler Burgess.

Pratt, who has no prior criminal record, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to six charges including aggravated sexual assault, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and unlawful restraint. He was ordered held without bail. His lawyer, public defender Marie Wood, didn't immediately return a telephone message left by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"When this was brought to the attention of law enforcement, we all were taken aback at the pervasive and lengthy abuse that was going on, and had been going on for years," prosecutor Erica Marthage said Wednesday. "It was concerning to all of us that this was something we potentially missed for this long. It just makes you wonder."

Three or four times, the boy told police, Pratt loaded a rifle and pointed it at him, threatening to kill him, the boy told police.

"There are days I cried myself to sleep and wanted to die," he said.

The boy told his mother that Pratt denigrated him constantly.

"At Christmas, I could open my gifts then he would put them in a box, duct tape it shut and store it in the basement. I never got any gifts," he said in a letter he gave to his mother, to be used if he couldn't talk to police about what had happened.

Neighbors and acquaintances interviewed at the Applegate Apartments complex were shocked by the charges against Pratt, describing him as a quiet, slightly-built man who was into camping, hunting and fishing and went by R.J.

"He's not that type. ... I don't think he's got a mean bone in his body," said Mary Hunt, who said she's known Pratt since they were children.

"I've never seen him argue with anyone, never heard a cross word," said neighbor Stanley Brookins, who said Pratt was always quick to help a neighbor, especially if it involved fixing a car.

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