Editor's Note: Details of this story may be too disturbing for some readers.
Police and prosecutors in Vermont’s Washington County are calling an investigation into a Barre couple one of their most disturbing cases of alleged child abuse in recent memory.
“It’s a really concerning fact pattern,” Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said of the accusations against Robin Benedict, 38, and Roland Withers, 35.
Police affidavits filed with the court Friday outline accusations that the couple subjected multiple children who were known to them to extensive cruelty and harm.
Investigators said there were beatings—even threats of murder. Interviews with the children revealed the kids could go days without food or be locked in closets for punishment, according to the affidavits. One young child was allegedly made to drink alcohol, Thibault noted.
The adults are also accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting two children and forcing them to touch each other’s private parts.
Separate defense attorneys for both Benedict and Withers entered not guilty pleas on behalf of their clients to all counts against them.
In one of the interviews described in the affidavits, Robin Benedict said she was afraid Withers might seriously hurt her if she reported the alleged crimes. However, prosecutors said she was a knowing participant in some of the alleged abuse.
Thibault noted the investigation is ongoing.
Judge Mary Morrissey ordered Benedict and Withers jailed without bail until at least their next court hearings. In those hearings, defense attorneys may argue for the suspects to be released on conditions, and prosecutors could present evidence asking that they remain in jail until trial.
According to court paperwork, police learned about the situation after the children’s doctor called in an urgent report that they were “filthy and pale,” “ravenously hungry,” and in the pediatrician’s opinion, “at risk of recurrent injury, deprivation, and death.”
Those alleged victims are now in DCF custody.
In the suspects’ Barre neighborhood, the accusations were deeply upsetting to other parents.
“To hear even just one child is torture,” said Barre resident Amanda Plante. “So I really do hope those kids can find peace.”
The chief of police in Barre said the community and state take sexual violence and crimes against children very seriously, and he wants survivors to know help is available.
“There are a lot of resources in the community and there are a lot of contact points,” said Chief Tim Bombardier. “You can deal with your healthcare provider, you can go through victim advocate services, you can even contact the police department and ask to speak to me.”
More information on services available to victims of such crimes is available on the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services website.
If they’re convicted, Benedict and Withers face possible maximum sentences of life in prison.