Judge hears testimony in post-conviction review of sexual assault case

ELLSWORTH — Justice Robert Murray recently heard two days of testimony in a post-conviction review of the case of a former Tremont teacher convicted of sexually assaulting a student.

Ben Hodgdon, 51, contends that critical evidence that would have proven his innocence was mishandled by the prosecution before and during his 2016 trial and as a result destroyed. He testified Nov. 20 that he is seeking a dismissal of all charges.

Hodgdon had been arrested in January 2014 on a gross sexual assault charge. He was accused of molesting a student during the 1999-2000 school year.

Attorney David A. Weyrens of the Portland firm Hallett Whipple Weyrens represents Hodgdon.

Weyrens said written closing arguments in the post-conviction review are due to Hancock County Superior Court on Jan. 8.

“Then there will be a final opportunity to reply on Jan. 22 after which the court will rule at some point,” Weyrens said.

After a three-day trial in March 2016, a Hancock County jury found Hodgdon guilty of one count each of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact and sexual abuse of a minor.

Hodgdon is incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham serving a 3½-year sentence. He is scheduled to be released from prison in June.

Hodgdon appealed his conviction in 2017, and lost. He later sought a post-conviction review.

Murray heard testimony in the post-conviction review Nov. 20 and 22. Those testifying included Hodgdon, Augusta defense attorney Walter McKee, Detective Stephen McFarland and former Assistant District Attorney Mary Kellett.

Weyrens questioned the competency of Hodgdon’s defense attorney, the late David Van Dyke, during the March 2016 trial.

McKee, who was hired to review Hodgdon’s case, testified on Nov. 20.

Much of McKee’s testimony centered on Van Dyke’s work defending Hodgdon.

“Did he effectively represent Ben?” Weyrens asked.

“He certainly did not,” McKee said.

McKee said Van Dyke should have objected to the prosecution admitting the full transcript of the interview between the victim and Detective McFarland.

“Most of the transcript was rife with inconsistencies,” McKee said.

“The value to the state was significant to say the least,” McKee said. The transcript was cited in the state’s closing arguments.

McKee said the case against Hodgdon relied on the victim’s statements.

“Evidence above and beyond that is minimal,” McKee said. “These are cases where it rises and falls on one person.”

Weyrens asked McKee, “This is a classic ‘he said, she said,’ is that fair to say in this case?”

“It is,” McKee replied.

“Van Dyke’s strategy was to discredit the … victim,” McKee said. “The strategy was acceptable. It’s all about the execution.”

District Attorney Matt Foster cross-examined McKee.

“Would you agree … given the number of times there were things in the transcript that were not beneficial to his client, he [Van Dyke] must have had some reason for wanting that admitted?”

McKee replied, “He must have had a reason. I can only draw what I can from his closing.”

Hodgdon also testified on Nov. 20.

Weyrens questioned his client about media coverage of his case, which Hodgdon contends was biased.

“My plea of not guilty was not in the newspapers or in the TV news,” Hodgdon said.

Hodgdon said there were misstatements in a January 2014 newspaper article about his indictment.

“It says Hodgdon acknowledged having sex with the girl when he was cross-country coach,” Hodgdon read. “That’s not true,” he said. “I never ‘acknowledged’ that.”

Foster asked Hodgdon why he hired Van Dyke.

Hodgdon replied that his brother’s attorney had recommended Van Dyke.

“Were you aware of his credentials?” Foster asked.

“No,” Hodgdon replied.

“He went to Harvard, he was admitted to several states [to practice law] including Maine,” Foster said.

Former Assistant District Attorney Mary Kellett, who handled sex crime prosecutions for the DA’s office when the case arose in 2014, testified on Nov. 22 for about an hour.

About four dozen people sat in the gallery wearing pins in support of Hodgdon during the post-conviction hearing.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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