November 26, 2012

US Supreme Court won't review Maine sex assault case

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court won't review the case of a Maine man who was convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage girl whom he allegedly hypnotized to help calm her about their relationship.

Aaron Patton's petition was among several hundred that the nation's highest court denied or dismissed without comment Monday. The justices agree to hear just a few percent of the thousands of appeals and review petitions they receive.

Patton, who is from Jay, was sentenced to six years in prison in May 2011 after a jury trial in which his victim, then 17, accused him of touching her starting when she was 12 and then carrying on a sexual relationship with her for several years.

During the trial, Patton acknowledged having a sexual relationship with the girl but insisted that she was 16 -- the age of consent in Maine -- and not 14, as the girl claimed.

Patton ran a business out of his home using hypnotism to help people break bad habits. He reportedly first hypnotized the girl to help her stop biting her fingernails. She said he later used hypnosis to try to ease her anxieties about their sexual relationship.

Patton appealed his conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, focusing on his constitutional right to remain silent.

Specifically, Patton's attorney argued that the lower court had erred by allowing a Livermore Falls police officer to testify that Patton said he had to talk to his attorney when the officer first approached him about his relationship with the victim.

Patton's attorney had objected to the testimony, claiming that his client's assertion of his constitutional rights could not be used against him at trial.

While the state subsequently acknowledged that it erred by introducing Patton's statement during the trial, it insisted that the error was harmless and did not affect the verdict.

In July, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court noted that federal appeals courts are split on the constitutional issue, but it agreed that the testimony was "harmless."

"Given the strength of the other evidence the state presented at trial ... we are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the isolated reference to Patton's desire to speak to his attorney was not sufficiently harmful to have affected the jury's verdict," the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said in its July ruling.

Patton's attorney, Verne Paradie Jr. of Auburn, said Monday that he was not surprised by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision because the state's highest court did not directly address the constitutional issue.

Patton can still seek redress through post-conviction reviews, Paradie said.

Kevin Miller -- 317-6256
kmiller@mainetoday.com

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