LITCHFIELD, Conn. – A former dean at an exclusive Connecticut boarding school was sentenced Friday to 9 1/2 years in prison for sexually abusing four students, after one of the victims and relatives of others testified about how their lives were turned upside down by the crimes.
Robert Reinhardt, 46, former dean of The Gunnery school in Washington, Conn., was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom as members of the audience cried and hugged. Reinhardt had apologized before Litchfield Superior Court Judge Charles Gill sentenced him, but it was unspecific and was taken as insincere by the prosecutor and some in the crowd.
Reinhardt only said, "I'm sorry for all the events that have occurred." In April, he pleaded to three counts of second-degree sexual assault and one count of risk of injury to a minor under the Alford doctrine, in which defendants dispute the allegations but admit there's enough evidence to be convicted.
After prison, Reinhardt, of Telford, Pa., will be on probation for 30 years and must register as a sex offender for 10 years. He will also be barred from having unsupervised contact with children and from working where children are present.
One of the victims testified that he was 16 years old when he began a secret two-year relationship with Reinhardt around 2002. He said he was one of the vulnerable youths Reinhardt preyed upon. At the time his mother was dying of cancer.
The man, who is gay, said Reinhardt threatened to tell others about his sexuality and warned that his grades would suffer if he told anyone about the relationship. The victim's name wasn't disclosed, and The Associated Press does not identify sexual assault victims in most cases.
"He's taken so much youth, passion and life from so many," the man said. "I'm a changed man because of this, and not for the better."
He then glared at Reinhardt, who continued looking straight ahead at the judge.
Reinhardt resigned from the school in June 2009 after the allegations surfaced and was arrested two months later. He had been on the faculty since 1996 and was named dean in 2006. Authorities said the assaults occurred mostly at Reinhardt's on-campus apartment and included various sex acts, but not forcible rape.
A mother of another victim testified that her son endured death threats and other nasty online messages as word of his allegations made the rounds. Reinhardt was a popular figure at the 161-year-old school in the western Connecticut hills where tuition is $40,000 a year. The mother said friends and faculty distanced themselves from her son and blamed him for what they thought were untrue charges.
She also said that during the investigation, her son had to look at police photographs of "trophies" found in Reinhardt's on-campus apartment, including 18 pairs of boy's underwear.
"I've seen a personality change in my son," she said before starting to cry. "He may say he's happy or he's sad, but I think for the last two years, he's been in a state of numbness."
Other victims have told officials that the abuse left them with psychological problems, including suicidal thoughts, traumatic memories and the inability to trust others. Susan Smith, a lawyer for three of the four victims, said one of her clients attempted suicide last spring.
She called Reinhardt a "polished and practiced sexual predator" who should never be allowed around children again.
Robert Reardon, a lawyer for the fourth victim, said Reinhardt molested his client more than 70 times during visits to Reinhardt's apartment three to four times a week. Reardon said the victims in the case are upset that Reinhardt hasn't confessed.
Reardon's client has dropped out of high school and continues to undergo counseling.
"My client has permanent scars. My client will never recover from what he has been put through," he said.
Gill told Reinhardt's victims that they didn't do anything wrong.
"There's nothing I can do to undo the harm to everyone," Gill said.
Three of the victims have lawsuits pending against Reinhardt and the school.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Terri Sonnemann said that while she wanted to see a longer prison sentence for Reinhardt, she was glad the victims didn't have to testify at a trial.
"Four young men can now move forward," she said. "There is hope. There has to be."