AUGUSTA — A China man on Tuesday admitted breaking into a neighbor’s home last summer and sexually assaulting her before she was able to flee.

James A. Bickford, 33, of China, pleaded guilty in Kennebec County Superior Court to gross sexual assault and a burglary charge related to the same break-in. He also pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge of theft by unauthorized taking.

The 21-year-old victim was able to escape during the attack the night of July 29, and she ran naked to another home to get help. Except for answering the judge’s questions, Bickford made no statement in court Tuesday.

Under a plea bargain approved by the judge, Bickford’s sentence would be capped at a maximum of 25 years in prison, while the initial period of jail time would be capped at 15 years.

A hearing is scheduled in March to determine Bickford’s final sentence. Defense attorney Walter McKee said he will argue for a lesser sentence and less prison time to be served initially.

Bickford’s prison term will be followed by a 10-year period of supervised release, and he must register as a lifetime offender under the state’s sex offender registry.

Assistant District Attorney Brad Grant told the judge on Tuesday that the victim was aware of the plea agreement.

Grant said Bickford broke into the locked home on Dirigo Road shortly after the victim’s husband left for work that night. Police have said that Bickford once lived in the apartment and he still had a key.

Grant said Bickford, wearing a ski mask, first demanded money from the victim, then forced her to perform oral sex on him and hit her in the face when she resisted. He threatened to pull out a gun as well, police said.

When Bickford tried to get her to move to a back bedroom, she ran from him and was able to get out of the house.

Bickford was arrested not long afterward when investigators followed a trail of footprints, left because of rain that night, to Bickford’s home. Police became suspicious of him because he was snoring loudly and claimed not to have heard the woman screaming.

Clothing described by the victim was found in a dryer and elsewhere at Bickford’s home. In addition, the victim’s DNA was found on Bickford, Grant told the judge. He remains jailed in lieu of $250,000 cash bail.

In the separate theft case, Bickford pleaded guilty to stealing a generator and tools from a former employer on May 26 in Augusta.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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