The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing.

~~~ Albert Einstein

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hulett, Kimball

Due to short timing, I am coping the entire piece, with limited commentary. Editting later in the day.

Men who abused girl were family friends

By Sam Hemingway
Free Press Staff Writer

January 26, 2006
The young couple didn't think twice back in 1998 when they were lining up music for their wedding reception.

They chose "Thunder & Lightning," a deejay enterprise two of their friends, Derek Kimball and Mark Hulett, were trying to get off the ground at the time.

Kimball was the bride's former boyfriend. Hulett was her trusted pal, the person who drove her to the hospital in 1995 when, single, she was about to give birth to a baby girl.

Today, Kimball and Hulett stand accused of separately molesting and sexually assaulting the little girl in 2003 and, in Hulett's case, in the two years that followed. They are being housed in separate cells at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, awaiting final resolutions to their cases.

According to a Burlington Free Press review of court records, police and workers for the state Department for Children and Families investigated claims by the girl in 2003 that the two men had touched her inappropriately. The probe was dropped when the claims against Kimball and Hulett couldn't be proved, a decision that resulted in continued abuse of the girl by Hulett for another two years.

The girl's mother and stepfather said they trusted Hulett, felt nothing could be going on if the state hadn't found anything wrong and did not stop Hulett from occasionally sleeping with the child even though they had been advised by the state to develop a plan to stop that practice.

The case has attracted national attention because of a controversial sentence Judge Edward Cashman gave Hulett on Jan. 4. Prosecutors have asked Cashman to reconsider the sentence. A hearing before Cashman on the matter is set to begin at 8:30 a.m. today.

There remain many unanswered questions in this case, including whether either man knew of the other's abuse at the time of the 2003 assaults. No evidence has been uncovered that shows they did, police say.

However, the two men were longtime friends as well as business partners. Both attended Champlain Valley Union High School as teens, were volunteer firefighters in different towns and put together a float for the 2004 Shelburne Halloween Parade. Lawyers for Kimball and Hulett declined comment Wednesday.

Kimball, 33 of Hinesburg, is accused of forcing himself on the girl and making her engage in oral sex in separate incidents before to April 2003. According to police, the girl referred to Kimball as "Uncle Derek."

Hulett, 34, of Williston, has admitted to engaging in as many as 20 instances of oral sex and fondling with the girl over the past three to four years while staying overnight at the couple's home or serving as her baby sitter when her parents were working.

The child, now 10, liked to call Hulett, "Uncle Mark," according to the police affidavits.
Chaotic home life

Police say the sexual assaults by Kimball and Hulett mostly took place inside the girl's mobile home, a place that sometimes served as a crowded crash pad for the parents' friends and their children.

"There was a very unique dynamic going on in that home," said Detective Bruce Bovat, director of the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations. "I don't think any of us truly understand the entirety of it."

The girl's stepfather acknowledged during an interview last week that, at times, the small home was populated by 10 or more adults and children, plus a collection of cats and dogs.

He said the friends who stayed at the home did so to get away from troubles elsewhere or because they didn't have another place to go.

"We had people sleeping on the couch and everywhere," he said as he admonished an exuberant rottweiller-German shepherd mix standing on the couch, to calm down. The Free Press is not publishing the names of the victim and her parents or the location of their home to protect the child's privacy.

In a conversation with police when he was arrested Oct. 7, Kimball admitted that one of the times he sexually assaulted the girl took place in the girl's bedroom while the door to the room was open and people could be heard walking around the house, a police affidavit said.

The stepfather said he could recall only one time that Kimball stayed overnight at the house. Hulett, on the other hand, often stayed there when he wanted to get away from his parents' home, where he lived.

"Mark and I would play video games," the stepfather said. "Mark brought games over and we'd play for hours. We were like brothers. He had me trusting him totally."

Carol Hulett, the mother of Mark Hulett, said her son sometimes brought the girl over to her house for a visit. She said the child was drawn to her son because he showed more interest in her than her absent biological father or her stepfather, who could be curt with her.

The stepfather admitted his relationship with the girl wasn't always smooth. "We had our ups and downs," he said. The girl is no longer living with her mother and stepfather and is in foster care.

Walking down the hallway of the home last week, he stopped to push open the door to the girl's bedroom, revealing a bunk bed occupied by two sleeping cats and, on the floor below, the girl's favorite dog.

In the toy room at the end of the hall, the stepfather pointed out the strings of colored lights Hulett tacked along the ceiling, the computer Hulett gave the girl and the photos of NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon that Hulett and the girl hung on the walls.

"He was their favorite," the stepfather said of the race-car driver, "but now she says she doesn't like Jeff Gordon anymore."
The first investigation

In April 2003, court records show, police and caseworkers for the state Department of Children and Families were alerted by a teacher at the girl's school that the girl was claiming that Kimball and Hulett had touched her inappropriately.

"She went to a para-educator and indicated that 'Uncle Mark' had accidentally touched her and that 'Uncle Derek' had put a hand inside her pants or on her private area," Bovat said. The girl also revealed that Hulett sometimes slept in a bed with her.

Investigators now believe, according to Bovat's police affidavit, that Kimball sexually assaulted the girl twice in early 2003, about the time Hulett began touching her while the two were in bed together. Hulett told a state-hired psychologist last year that he began "staying" with the girl in March 2003.

Bovat said police were unable to pursue the sexual abuse claims in 2003 because the girl backed off on what she had alleged and the two men asserted they had not molested her.

"The girl confided that Mark had said he had been having a dream when she was touched," said Bovat, who was not involved in the 2003 investigation. "She was incredibly reluctant to give out any information."

The girl's mother and stepfather said in interviews they took the decision to end the 2003 investigation as proof that nothing bad had taken place.

"The state should have done something," the girl's mother said in an interview Wednesday. "If we had been told to keep them away from my daughter, we would never have allowed them to be around her."

In the aftermath of the 2003 investigation, Kimball stopped visiting the house, the girl's stepfather said. As for Hulett, DCF caseworkers advised the couple to put a plan in place to prevent Hulett from sleeping in the girl's room in the future.

The stepfather said DCF never checked back with the family to see how the plan was working. Fred Ober, the child protection director for the department's Family Services Division, said confidentiality rules prohibited him from commenting on the case.

He said the department generally provides advice but does not do follow-up work in cases where abuse or neglect claims aren't substantiated. The stepfather said the failed 2003 investigation might have emboldened Hulett to groom the girl to be sexual with him.

"We tried to not let him go into her room at night, but Mark kept on not listening," the stepfather said. "At night, he'd go to sleep in one room but in the morning, Mark would be in sleeping with her."

Bovat's affidavit detailed an incident where the stepfather awoke one morning to find the door to the toy room locked, with Hulett and the girl inside. The stepfather told police he knocked repeatedly on the door and when Hulett opened it, he told the stepfather "the door does that occasionally," according to the affidavit.
Good police work

Bovat credited the girl's cousin and her mother with helping police gather the evidence needed to finally bring criminal charges against Kimball and Hulett last year.

On May 10, the girl confided details of the assaults and fondling to her cousin as the two girls were jumping on a trampoline in the cousin's back yard; the cousin told her mother what she had heard. The mother passed the information on to the girl's parents, who called police and DCF. When the police interviewed the girl, she declined to repeat the details of the incidents that she had shared with the cousin, just as she had chosen not to tell police what she told the teacher in 2003.

This time, though, police took the extra step of giving the cousin's family a digital recorder and persuading the cousin to call the girl and ask her to retell her story of the attacks over the phone. The plan worked, although the details the girl provided to her cousin were minimal.

"Where did he touch you?" the cousin asks the girl at one point in the interview, referring to Hulett.

"Down below," the girl responds. The exchange is contained in a transcript of the telephone call filed with the court.

The girl also tells her cousin that Kimball threatened to kill her if she told anyone about what he had done with her.

"He said if I ever told anyone he would kill me and my family, my mom and dad," the girl told the cousin, according to the transcript.

On May 16, police confronted Hulett as he was leaving a Williston service station. They told him the girl had poured out a detailed, tearful account of his sexual activity with her, all the while reiterating how much she cared for and loved Hulett.

"The amount of information we had was limited and very vague," Bovat said. "It was a ruse, to an extent."

Slowly, Hulett voluntarily began to confirm the extent of his sexual activity with the girl as police praised him for his unselfish candor.

Hulett was arrested after the interview and arraigned the following day. Bovat said he decided not to go after Kimball at the same time because he was no longer a part of the parents' circle of friends and, Bovat reasoned, not a threat to the girl. He also was concerned Kimball might have his guard up in the initial period after Hulett's arrest in May.

"I didn't know what kind of guy he was," Bovat said of Kimball. "I wanted to give him a little while before we went knocking on his door." Over the next five months, Bovat said, police kept tabs on Kimball's whereabouts.

Armed with no more information than what the girl had provided them in May, police questioned Kimball on Oct. 7, again employing the strategy of implying the girl had offered them a fuller account of Kimball's alleged misconduct than she actually had.

Just as Hulett did, Kimball responded by gradually admitting details of the sexual acts he had engaged in with the girl. He was arrested and arraigned the same day.
Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at News Article

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