AUGUSTA — A man will spend the next 15 years in prison for a drunken late night sexual attack on a neighbor whose husband had just left for work.
In court Monday morning, James A. Bickford, 34, of China, apologized to the victim and to his family, saying he hated himself and was ashamed of what he had done. He also vowed never to drink again.
“I am so aware I forever messed up your life and the life of others,” he told the woman he sexually assaulted, who was in the courtroom in Kennebec County Superior Court. The victim did not address the judge during the hearing.
Bickford pleaded guilty on Jan. 31 to gross sexual assault and a burglary charge related to the same home invasion. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of theft by receiving stolen property involving a generator taken from his former employer, construction firm Wyman & Simpson. That offense occurred May 26 in Augusta.
On Monday, Justice Michaela Murphy imposed the maximum sentence Bickford agreed to when he pleaded guilty: 25 years in prison, with all but 15 years suspended and 10 years of supervised released.
Bickford’s attorney, Walter McKee, argued in vain for a lesser term.
McKee asked that Bickford receive a shorter sentence that would permit him to participate in a special sex offender program at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.
McKee said Bickford was honorably discharged after serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, but developed a serious alcohol problem.
“Jim with alcohol is a very bad thing, including the thing that happened that night,” McKee said. “When he wasn’t drinking, he was a good person.”
Bickford wiped away his tears with a tissue as McKee spoke, and several of Bickford’s family members wept openly as they spoke to the judge and offered apologies and prayers to the victim.
“What occurred was an utterly unprovoked attack on a young woman at night by a stranger,” Murphy said. “It is difficult to contemplate how this event would have ended if she had not been able to get away.”
Acting District Attorney Alan Kelley said Bickford violated the victim’s “sense of home, body and very being.” Kelley said the attack was every woman’s nightmare.
He said the woman previously had a fear of the dark and now she has multiple locks on her home, a watch dog, weapons and always has a cellphone nearby.
Kelley said the sexual attack apparently began as a robbery attempt. A robbery charge was dismissed in exchange for the pleas to the other offenses.
An investigator’s affidavit filed with the court says the woman had locked the apartment for the night on July 29, when the door opened and a masked man entered, his eyes shielded by sunglasses with blue lenses.
According to the affidavit, the intruder said he needed money and told her, “Do not make me pull out my piece.” He also punched her in the face, pulled her hair, forced her to remove her clothes and perform oral sex on him.
The woman escaped naked from her home to seek help after Bickford tried to force her to go with him to a back bedroom.
Bickford was arrested almost immediately by deputies who followed a trail of footprints to his home and heard him snoring loudly. He told them he was asleep and had not heard the woman screaming.
According to the affidavit, investigators found the clothing the victim described in Bickford’s home, including the mask and the white gloves she said he wore.
Bickford and his wife formerly lived in the victim’s home and Bickford apparently had retained a key to it.
Conditions of probation ban Bickford from contact with the victim, and he must register under the state’s sex offender act as a lifetime registrant.
Betty Adams — 621-5631