AUGUSTA — A 51-year-old city man pleaded no contest Tuesday to one sex charge as a jury waited in a different room at the Capital Judicial Center to hear the case against him.

Derek S. Sterling was found guilty by Justice William Stokes of visual sexual aggression against a child and then sentenced to 14 months in jail — time already served. As a result of the conviction, Sterling is required under state law to register for 25 years as a sex offender.

The charge itself carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

In exchange for the plea, a charge of unlawful sexual contact, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, was dismissed.

One of the prosecutors, Assistant District Attorney Kristin Murray-James, outlined the evidence the state would have presented at trial, telling the judge that the 6-year-old victim would testify that she was visiting Sterling when he exposed himself to her and the assault occurred.

“The testimony would allow the jury to infer that he did it with the purpose of satisfying his sexual desire,” Murray-James said. The indictment says the offense occurred between July 1, 2016, and Aug. 1, 2016, in Augusta.

“My client vehemently denies that any such thing happened,” defense attorney Stephen C. Smith told Stokes.

The girl told her mother about the incident, and Augusta police Detective Tori Tracy recorded an interview with Sterling. “He told if he did it, he doesn’t remember,” Murray-James said.

Stokes said he understood that the defense disputed the evidence but knew that a conviction could result if the jury believed it.

When the hearing first began, the girl named as the victim sat on her mother’s lap in the front row of the public area of the courtroom. They were accompanied by the victim advocate from the district attorney’s office.

When her mother began addressing the judge, the girl left the courtroom. Her mother said, “I’m here to say that this is a nightmare (the girl) has been living every day.” The mother said the girl is in counseling.

It is the Kennebec Journal’s policy not to identify victims of sex crimes without their permission.

“I’m proud she showed up today willing to tell her story,” the mother said. “Shame on you, Derek, for harming this little girl.”

Stokes told attorneys that the plea was a fair resolution of the case and avoids having the girl testify in public, which can be difficult.

Stokes also told Sterling there were serious consequences if he failed to comply with sex offender registration.

“The plea offer was very advantageous, and Mr. Sterling simply wants to get on with his life,” Smith, the defense attorney, said outside the courthouse.

Sterling was arrested in April 2017 and had been in jail in lieu of bail since then. On Tuesday, he wore a black, short-sleeved shirt and black trousers rather than a jail uniform, indicating he was expecting to be seen by a jury. The trial had been set to run through Friday.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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