ELLSWORTH — A former Tremont Consolidated School teacher convicted of sexually assaulting a student is filing another appeal of his conviction.
Ben Hodgdon, 51, is incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham serving a 3½-year sentence for one count each of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact and sexual abuse of a minor.
A Hancock County jury found Hodgon guilty after a three-day trial in March 2016.
Hodgdon has a new attorney, David A. Weyrens of the Portland firm Hallett Whipple Weyrens, who intends to file a petition with the court in February for post-conviction review.
Weyrens succeeds Ellsworth attorney Robert Van Horn. Hodgdon was represented during trial by the late David Van Dyke.
Weyrens met Jan. 9 with Hancock County District Attorney Matt Foster and Maine Superior Court Justice Robert Murray to discuss the case.
The group met in chambers, but Weyrens said via email that evidence that may have proved his client’s innocence had been destroyed.
“The primary claims are that a critical piece of evidence that would likely have established his innocence was destroyed prior to trial and also that certain aspects of the trial were not handled properly and had they been he likely would not have been convicted,” Weyrens stated.
Foster declined to comment.
Hodgdon appealed his conviction to the Maine Supreme Court in 2017 and lost.
Hodgdon’s appeal hinged on whether the jury distinguished if his victim was 13 years old or age 14 when the criminal acts took place. Maine law regarding sex crimes is different for victims under the age of 14.
Hodgdon contended instructions to the trial jury that they must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the assaults took place “on or about” particular dates raised uncertainty about whether the victim was 13 or 14 at the time.
As a result, the jury was able to return a guilty verdict on the gross sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact charges without finding the victim was under the age of 14, he argued.
The Supreme Court disagreed, noting that the lower court informed members of the jury several times of the requirement that they must find that the victim was under the age of 14 in order to return a guilty verdict on the charges.
“The jury was correctly informed of the relevant law and the state’s burden of proof,” the opinion stated.
On Jan. 9, Hodgdon’s family, including his wife and brother and nearly 40 supporters, gathered at the Hancock County Courthouse wearing buttons that stated “Freedom and Justice for Ben Hodgdon.”
“We’re trying to show our love and support for Ben,” said his wife, Hilary Hodgdon of Seal Cove, in an interview outside the courtroom.
“He’s maintained his innocence from the very first interview,” she said.
Hilary said she and the couple’s children make a 3½-hour drive to visit Ben in Windham every Sunday.
“He’s doing well,” she said. “The inmates call him ‘Coach.’”
Hodgdon is mentoring other inmates, coaching and also training dogs.
“The guys come to him with their life problems,” she said.