RUTLAND, Vt. — A New Hampshire man, who admitted on Tuesday to attempting to arrange a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old girl in Rutland in December 2017, will spend more than a year in prison.
Michael A. Johnson, 61, of North Walpole, New Hampshire, thought he had contacted a 13-year-old through social media in 2017. He was actually exchanging messages with a Vermont State Police Trooper who was operating a sting operation.
During Johnson’s sentencing Tuesday, Judge David Fenster said Johnson had credit for 22 months he has already been in jail since he was arrested.
But Johnson was scheduled Tuesday to serve three to five years in jail, which means he would still have to spend 14 months in jail before he reaches his earliest possible release date.
After Johnson’s arrest, Vermont State Police said their investigation began after Johnson contacted a trooper posing as a 13-year-old girl. Johnson sent a message to a fake profile, which police said they established for investigative purposes, asking the girl he thought had created the profile to approve his friend request.
While the messages were being exchanged, the trooper, posing as a teen, claimed to be “almost 14” early on. Johnson replied that he did not “want to get in any trouble talking to a minor” but continued sending messages.
Within a few hours, Johnson, who was 59 at the time, mentioned the possibility of being in a relationship with the “girl,” saying he would “take things slow.”
A few days later, police said, Johnson contacted the “girl” again, and suggested they meet, saying he knew of places they could go to be alone, proposing specific sex acts and saying he would bring a condom and lotion.
He wrote, “Just wish you were a little older but that’s OK.”
Plans were made for Johnson to meet the “girl” at the Rutland Shopping Plaza. When Johnson arrived, police were waiting to arrest him.
On Tuesday, Rutland County Deputy State’s Attorney Travis Weaver asked Fenster for a sentence of three to five years for Johnson to serve.
Weaver said the state was concerned because Johnson had previous convictions for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, in 1982 and 1984 and a conviction for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child in 1986.
“Given that history, even though it’s older criminal conduct, this (charge) is not the first time he’s engaged in this kind of problematic behavior,” he said.
Attorney Chris Davis, who represented Johnson, also asked for a three- to five-year sentence but asked all of the time be suspended except 23 months and probation until further order of the court.
Davis said his client wanted to take responsibility for what he had done and pointed out that Johnson had agreed to plead guilty, which he did in April, without an agreement about the sentence he would serve.
Under the sentence proposed by Johnson, Davis said his client would remain under supervision for a longer period. The state’s proposal of time served would place him on the Vermont Sex Offender Registry but end his supervision sooner.
Given a chance to address the court, Johnson apologized to his family “for the embarrassment.”
“I’m just ashamed of myself for what had happened,” he said.
Johnson thanked police who investigated him so that “nothing happened” and said he took responsibility for his actions.
Fenster agreed to split Johnson’s sentence and place him on indefinite probation.
He said the 14 months Johnson had remaining on his sentence to be served in prison should be enough time for Johnson to go through sex offender treatment.
Fenster said he was concerned because Johnson went through sex offender treatment in 1986 but still committed the new crime in December 2017.
The judge said a report created by the Vermont Department of Corrections also indicated Johnson was not really taking full responsibility for the most recent charge. Fenster said the report indicated Johnson told the interviewer he believed he was “accidentally engaged in a sexually-explicit conversation and accidentally made plans to meet with an underage individual.”