By Eric Francis
HARTLAND – A former Hartland resident is facing the potential of up to life in prison on child rape charges after a 15-year-old girl came forward this fall and told investigators she had been sexually assaulted for years, beginning when she was in the second grade, when the accused was baby-sitting her in Hartland.
The girl, who is now attending a special school for troubled teens out of state, disclosed to her counselors that she had been repeatedly raped by two of her mother’s fiancÃ©s over the years, most recently by a man whom she watched die of a heart attack on the family’s living room sofa one evening, according to the girl’s mother.
“God took care of him,” the girl’s mother said following a court hearing last week in downtown White River Junction, explaining that it was only when information about the second alleged rape incident came to light that the girl began telling school counselors about what had allegedly been done to her when she was even younger.
As a result of those disclosures, which began in September, Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Megan Sheridan of the Windsor County Special Investigative Unit traveled to the girl’s school to interview her and prepare a case against Peter Gusha, now a 50-year-old Springfield resident, who up until his arrest last week had been working for several years as a janitor at Springfield Hospital.
Gusha, who lived with the girl’s mother in Hartland for four years until the couple broke up, pleaded innocent this past week in Windsor District Court in downtown White River Junction to felony counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and to repeated aggravated sexual assault upon a child – an offense which carries the potential for life imprisonment in Vermont.
Acknowledging that Gusha had grown up in the Union Village section of Thetford and attended Oxbow Union High School before living at times in Hartland, South Royalton, and White River Junction and working everywhere from McDonald’s to Miller Auto, Judge Patricia Zimmerman told Gusha during his arraignment last Wednesday, “I do know you have ties to the community,” but on cases that involve possible life sentences, she noted, “the presumption goes to incarceration,” and thus a risk of flight. Â With that, Zimmerman set bail for Gusha at $25,000 and ordered him to stay away from any females under the age of 16 if he is able to post that amount pre-trial.
Speaking to reporters in the foyer of the courthouse immediately after Gusha’s arraignment, the girl’s mother said she had no inkling during the time she dated him that there was anything untoward was going on during those years even though she watched her child go from “a normal sweet girl who loved to play” to someone who was “very angry and wouldn’t listen to anyone.”
“They claim that they love you and (yet) they are doing that to your daughter,” the woman said.
“I trusted him (but) I will never trust anyone again,” she said, wiping away tears and adding, “(My daughter has been) in and out of hospitals because she tried to commit suicide and it is all because of him”
“(My daughter said) he had threatened to kill me if she told. Â That’s why she never said anything,” the mother said, adding, “She’ll never have a normal life because of himâ€¦since they started interviewing her (she) has gotten worse.”
Detective Sgt. Sheridan wrote in her affidavit that when she and another detective confronted and interviewed Gusha at his residence last Tuesday, Gusha stopped well short of corroborating the girl’s account of years of continuous sexual abuse but the detectives said Gusha did allegedly admit to having sex with the girl on one occasion when she lived in Hartland and they said he admitted to a range of other sexual activities which he claimed were actually initiated by the putative victim.
“Gusha was very upset about what he had done and repeatedly apologized for his behavior,” during the interview, Sheridan recalled, adding that Gusha, “blamed his behavior on his then-alcoholism and drug problem. Â He told us that during this time he was drinking alcohol, using cocaine and marijuana freely. Â (He said) he has not sexually assaulted anyone else.”
Detective Sheridan also wrote that Gusha claimed he’d gone so far as to warn the girl’s mother that a grade-schooler should not be left alone with him because he said she was supposedly, “coming on to him too strongly.”
Detective Sheridan wrote that after the decision was made to arrest Gusha, as he was being driven to the state police barracks in Royalton for processing, he asked her and Detective Sgt. John Hagen, “If the Lord forgives people for their mistakes.”
“(Gusha) stated that he hoped so,” Sheridan recalled, writing that a crying Gusha then explained that since he couldn’t read or write he wanted to instead tape record his statement. “Gusha then made a sworn, recorded audio statement apologizing to (the girl) for touching her private areas and for having sex with her,” Sheridan wrote, concluding, “He told me he wished it never happened and that he hoped she would be able to move on with her life.”
By Eric Francis