Vt. man accused of locking up stepson gets prison

A man accused of confining his adolescent stepson to an alarm-rigged bedroom and molesting him for years was sentenced Monday to 18 years to life in prison after the judge heard the words of the victim read aloud in court.

Robert J. Pratt starved the boy, smashed his head into a wall when he wouldn't comply with his sex demands and wouldn't let him use the bathroom, forcing him to urinate out the window or into a hole in the wall where a telephone jack had been, prosecutors said.

"He deserves life in jail," the victim said in his statement, read in court by a probation officer who interviewed him as part of Pratt's pre-sentence investigation. "Nor for my sake alone, but for any other people or kids who might have contact with him. He sexually and emotionally mistreated me for years and he will do it to someone else again. I know he will. He enjoys it."

Pratt, a handyman and part-time worker at a clothes hanger factory who had no prior criminal record, was charged last year after the boy — who lived with him for about 10 years — told authorities he'd been abused for years but never spoke up because he feared Pratt.

The 39-year-old Pratt would send the boy to school in long-sleeved shirts and pants so no one could see his bruises and scars, the boy told police.

The alleged abuse came to light after Pratt kicked the boy out of the apartment and the boy told his mother, a counselor and then police about a hellish existence in which he was routinely beaten and abused, sometimes threatened with a rifle.

The homemade alarm system consisted of a magnet that stuck to a metal strip on the floor so it signaled when the door opened, according to a police affidavit.

The boy was 70 pounds underweight when he came forward and has since gained back that much and more, according to prosecutor Christina Rainville.

Pratt was originally charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated domestic assault, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and unlawful restraint.

But he pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault on a child. The plea, which dismissed the other counts, was offered to spare the boy — now 18 — from having to testify at a trial. All the claims he had made were corroborated in the investigation, Rainville said.

A police officer who searched the apartment testified at sentencing that he found conditions as the boy had described, including the wall hole, which still reeked of urine — months after the boy stopped living there.

The Associated Press does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent.

The crimes occurred over a 5½-year period, though some of the abuse began earlier than that, Rainville said.

"This is the sex assault of a child he's admitted to, but he's only admitted to a tiny piece of it. What was involved here was horrendous controls in keeping the boy captive in his room for 10 years, on and off, daily," Rainville said.

Pratt apologized in a brief statement before being sentenced. "I'm sorry for doing it," he said.