AUGUSTA —  Two men who pleaded guilty to separate robberies got new starts in life on Thursday after completing specialty court programs aimed at rehabilitation.

Travis M. Bentley, 28, was living in Sanford when he robbed a pharmacy in Springvale in York County almost two years ago, demanding prescription drugs.

Aaron P. Young, 33, formerly of Randolph and now of China, robbed a woman of her purse in September 2011 as she walked across the bridge between Gardiner and Randolph.

Bentley, who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2007 after serving two tours in Iraq and one in Haiti, entered a Veterans Court program. Young went into a Co-Occurring Disorders Court program designed to aid offenders dealing with mental illness and substance abuse problems.

Both programs operate in Kennebec County Superior Court and are overseen by Justice Nancy Mills.

Conditions for entry were a guilty plea to the offenses, plus a commitment to meet rigorous requirements involving treatment, counseling and reporting to the court.

On Thursday, as a result of their successful completion of the programs, the men were sentenced under what is known as “the best case scenario” and avoided lengthy jail terms.

Bentley was sentenced to four years in jail, with all but 85 days suspended and three years’ probation. 

“Thank you to everybody,” Bentley said in court, conceding that before, he saw his life heading nowhere. “I wouldn’t like where I would be if it wasn’t for the court. I needed a push in the right direction.”

If he had failed the program, Bentley’s plea agreement called for a sentence of seven years in prison with all but two years’ suspended on the Maine charge. He also would have faced a sentence on robbery charges from Strafford County, N.H.

Aaron Pontin, a case manager with the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, told Bentley he had seen him grow within the Criminogenic Addiction & Recovery Academy, known as CARA, at the Kennebec County jail. “When you came out you were almost like a different person and a good example from other veterans in the court,” Pontin said to Bentley.

Anne Archibald, a worker with the Veterans Justice Outreach program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at Togus, said she was amazed at the work by Bentley. “I hope when you’re ready, you’ll give back and be one of our mentors. We would love that.”

Mills congratulated Bentley on his success. “You’re a reason this court should remain and continue to help people,” she said.

Young was sentenced to 364 days in jail with all but six months and 10 days suspended and one year probation. He was fined $300 and ordered to pay $1,000 restitution and banned from contact with the victim. Both men have already served their initial periods of incarceration.

Mills reminded Young that if he had not completed the program, he was to be sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but six years suspended.

“Six year versus six months,” she said, “and you avoided a felony conviction.”

Young was grateful for the new start.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone,” Young said. “My alternative sentence is scary. This program really saved my life and gave me an opportunity. I am just so grateful for the program.”

Pontin said that Young, who was a star athlete, works more than 50 hours a week and holds two and sometimes three jobs simultaneously. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re an all-star in this court,” Pontin said.

After the hearings, Mills said, “This program not only rehabilitates defendants, so they’re not back in the criminal justice system, they pay fines, restitution, they pay taxes. If it works, it’s all good.” Some 24 people are enrolled in the veterans and co-occurring disorders courts.

“This is an example of how we can be successful at turning someone’s life around,” said District Attorney Maeghan Maloney.  “When we have alternative programs like this, it can work.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631
badams@centralmaine.com