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Chelsea - A former physical education teacher at Oxbow Union High School has been convicted of sexually assaulting a student he coached while she was living at his Topsham home in the late 1990s.
Brian H. Musty, 44, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of sexual assault of a victim under 18 who was entrusted to his care, according to a plea agreement filed in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea.
The felony conviction carries with it a potential sentence of 3 years to life in prison, a fine of not more than $25,000, or both.
Under the terms of the agreement, all but 7 months of any prison sentence would be suspended, and Musty would be on probation for life. He also would have to register as a sex offender.
A sentencing date has not yet been set.
Musty, who remains free on conditions pending sentencing, had faced a more serious charge of aggravated sexual assault of a minor, which carried with it a possible sentence of 25 years to life in prison, following his arrest in November 2012.
That stemmed from the victim's allegations that Musty sexually assaulted her repeatedly starting when she was 15.
According to a stipulation of facts in Friday's plea agreement, the victim, with the approval of her mother, moved into the Musty home in the winter of 1998, when she was 15 and a freshman at Oxbow, because of problems she "was experiencing in her home and personal life." Musty had worked at Oxbow since 1994, coaching girls basketball, soccer and lacrosse, and the girl had played on several of his teams.
Musty, who is married, and his family "provided (the victim) with a home and undertook her care and upbringing" until she graduated from Oxbow and entered college in 2000. The stipulation says Musty "exercised the rights and obligations of a permanent guardian" for the girl during that time period.
But between September 1998, when the girl turned 16, and until she became an adult in 2000, Musty "engaged in sexual acts" with her while he "was responsible for her care," the stipulation of facts states.
In Vermont, the age of consent typically is 16, but because Musty was acting as a guardian for the girl, any sexual contact with her during that period was illegal. (As a general practice, the Valley News does not identify victims of sex crimes.)
Orange County State's Attorney William Porter declined to comment on Musty's conviction pending sentencing, but did indicate the plea deal was reached after consultation with the victim.
"I have had extensive contact with her on this case, and her lawyer," Porter said.
The prosecutor said he is hopeful sentencing may take place within two months, following a pre-sentencing investigation and other evaluations by the Department of Corrections.
The woman, who is now 31, lives in Utah and serves in the armed forces, according to her Lebanon-based attorney, Patrick Hayes.
"She's going to come to the sentencing and she's going to express her feelings about it at that time," Hayes said. "Obviously, she has mixed feelings about (the plea agreement), but she is pleased that there is going to be some justice served on him for what he did."
David Sleigh, Musty's defense attorney, said the plea agreement would spare his client a much longer sentence had the prosecution been able to prove that the sexual contact began before the victim turned 16.
"I think it's a reasonable resolution given the facts of the case and the potential for a much harsher result," Sleigh said.
"He's never denied that they had a sexual relationship. The question was whether it was criminal or not," he said.
Musty was fired from his job at Oxbow in February 2013. Sleigh, who is based in St. Johnsbury, said Musty and his wife are still married and living together.
Asked for comment on Musty's conviction, Orange East Supervisory Union Superintendent Beth Cobb said the district has updated its policies, including some involving interactions between students and staff, and posted them publicly on the school's website.
Some parents after Musty's arrest had said he often seemed to meet with individual students behind closed doors.
Policy changes since 2012 include taking steps to ensure that one student will not be left alone in a room with one adult, said Cobb.
The school also made attempts to improve visibility into rooms where adults and students meet and, in hiring, background checks have gotten stricter, she said.
The administration has worked with the fire and police departments to ensure that they're "all on the same page," Cobb said.
Administrators also added an online reporting tool, Safe Schools Alert, to the school website, www.oxbowhighschool.org/Safety.
Community members can now make claims of abuse, bullying, harassment, or other concerns online, said Cobb. They can opt to share information anonymously.
While the general mood at Oxbow has "really settled down," she said, "I do think there's a heightened awareness in this town because of the things that have happened."
Musty's case followed the 2009 conviction of former Bradford Elementary School teacher Richard Foster for producing child pornography involving two sixth-grade boys. Foster died in federal prison while serving a 25-year sentence.
School Board Chairwoman Kathleen Damon on Monday declined to comment on the Musty case specifically, but she echoed Cobb's assertions that the school has made improvements since a community forum to discuss Musty's case in November 2012.
The School Board hears safety updates from Oxbow Principal Larry Walsh approximately twice a year, she said.
"We kind of make a point of making reports on it so it stays in the forefront," she said.
She expressed confidence in administrators' efforts to follow-up on claims of abuse.
"If concerns are raised they're followed through," she said.
Walsh was out of the office and unavailable by phone on Monday.
A message left on the Musty family's answering machine also went unreturned.
Oxbow's annual school district meeting is being held tonight at 8 p.m. in the high school auditorium.