Patrick Doyle, 42, pleaded guilty to charges of child endangerment and witness intimidation during a hearing yesterday afternoon in Salem Superior Court, where Judge Leila Kern told Doyle he had sunk to the "absolute bottom."
"To stand by and watch a child be sexually abused by adults, to be sold into sexual slavery by her mother, is the gutter," Kern said of the incidents during the summer of 2004 in Salem and Beverly.
The case stunned even veteran police investigators, who literally walked in on one episode of abuse in a Salem apartment.
Police would come to learn that the girl's mother had traded sexual access to her daughter for crack cocaine.
But the judge also said Doyle's actions, while "reprehensible," were not comparable to those of two other men who were charged with actually abusing the girl, or to the actions of the girl's mother.
On the child endangerment charge, Kern sentenced him to five years of probation.
Doyle also admitted that he later tried to prevent a witness from cooperating with police. For that, Kern imposed a 21/2-year jail term but suspended all but one year of that.
He will become eligible for parole in six months.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Dunigan had asked for a prison term of four to six years.
"What he did was completely outrageous," Dunigan said.
Not only did Doyle stand by as the girl was abused, he went on to threaten Jill Pena-Contreras, the woman who went to police after seeing photos of the girl with another man, Richard Lapham. Lapham is now serving a 15- to 18-year prison term for raping the girl.
Dunigan called Pena-Contreras the girl's "savior."
Alerted by photos
It was Pena-Contreras who, while visiting Lapham's apartment in Salem in July 2004, was first shown Polaroid photos of Lapham with the little girl, performing sexual acts. She told a friend who at the time was a Salem police officer. He suggested she go back and get the photos, which she did.
Those photos gave police a basis to get a search warrant for Lapham's apartment. On a hot summer evening in early August, detectives showed up and walked in on a disturbing tableau: a half-dressed Lapham, who answered the door after some delay; a naked 9-year-old girl huddled under a blanket, her mother and autistic older brother sitting nearby; and a pornographic video playing on the television.
The girl would later disclose that Lapham had been abusing her for months. And the girl's mother, Mary Jean Armstrong, would confess to police that Lapham had offered her cocaine in exchange for access to her child.
Armstrong, Lapham and a third man, Richard L'Italien, who told police he had started to engage in a sex act with the girl in a Danvers motel, were arrested and charged.
Police had suspected Doyle's involvement early on, believing he had taken the photos that Pena-Contreras saw. And Doyle made a phone call to her shortly after the other three were arrested.
In a voice mail message, he told Pena-Contreras he couldn't believe she had called the police, Dunigan said. And then he warned her: "People with big mouths don't have big mouths for long."
It wasn't until months later that Doyle was charged, after another woman told police she was in Armstrong's Beverly apartment one night when Doyle and Lapham came over. She and Doyle went into the bedroom where the little girl was sleeping and began having sex, Dunigan said. When the girl woke up, the woman told her to go back to sleep. But she didn't, and soon Lapham came into the room.
Lapham began engaging in sexual acts with the girl, who cried. Then Armstrong came in and told the girl it was OK and to stop crying and do what Lapham wanted.
Then Armstrong climbed into bed with Doyle and the other woman, a witness who has never been charged, and joined in their sexual activity, ignoring what was happening to the child in the next bed.
Doyle's lawyer, Randy Chapman, acknowledged that Doyle's failure to do anything was "beyond comprehension." But he attributed Doyle's behavior to "a deep, deep addiction" to cocaine that dated back 20 years.
Although he held down a full-time job delivering office supplies, Doyle's drug use escalated.
"I believe he truly was sick," said Chapman, who had urged the judge not to send Doyle to jail at all, pointing to his successful drug treatment since he was first charged and his strong roots in the community.
Doyle comes from a well-known Salem family. His father was a principal of Salem High; his uncle was the longtime presiding judge at Salem District Court; his brother is a coach; one cousin is a judge; and another is a prosecutor. (For that reason, Dunigan was brought in from the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office to prosecute the case after Doyle was charged.)
"He's brought shame on his family," Chapman said. None of Doyle's family members was in court yesterday.
'The worstest mother'
Dunigan said the little girl, now 11, and her brother have been adopted by a family and are making good progress. They recently welcomed a new baby to the family. And the girl is taking karate lessons. But there are many tough days ahead yet.
The girl's adoptive mother, in a victim impact statement aimed mostly at Armstrong, said the girl "will struggle with scars for a lifetime."
At first, the child didn't comprehend just how badly she had been used and abused. But she is now beginning to understand.
"She's the worstest mother," the girl told her new mother. She often wonders, "Why did my mother even have me?" It's a question her new family doesn't know how to answer.
Armstrong is scheduled to plead guilty on March 2. L'Italien is scheduled to plead guilty on March 19.
Because prosecutors dropped the only sexually oriented charge against Doyle, photographing a child in a state of nudity, he will not be required to register as a sex offender.
Dunigan asked the judge to impose the five years of probation for the charge of witness intimidation, rather than child endangerment, because prosecutors could then have sought a 10-year prison term if Doyle violates his probation. But the judge refused.
The most time Doyle will face if he violates probation is four years in jail, a year and a half that was suspended on the witness intimidation charge and the maximum penalty of 21/2 years for child endangerment.