A Havre businessman was in the Hill County jail this morning, serving the first 10 days of a two-year sentence on a misdemeanor sex charge.
Howard Richardson, born in 1961, pleaded no contest Tuesday in state District Court in Havre to a misdemeanor count of sexual assault, amended from a felony charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
Under the no contest plea, Richardson admitted he likely would be convicted by the evidence but did not admit to committing the crime. It is treated by the court, however, as if the defendant pleaded guilty.
Judge John McKeon imposed a two-year deferred imposition of sentence, and ordered Richardson to spend the next 10 days in jail.
Richardson’s lawyer, Kenneth Olson, requested he be given 48 hours to arrange for care for his children, according to a court document.
McKeon said Richardson had six hours to make the arrangements and ordered him to report to the Hill County Detention Center by 5 p.m.
McKeon also ordered Richardson to enroll in a sexual offender treatment program within 30 days.
The sentence allows Richardson to request the offense be stricken from his record after the two years of probation if he does not violate a lengthy list of conditions of release.
Richardson was charged after a woman told police officers that he had cornered her in a room in his house May 28, 2011, and started taking off her clothes despite her repeatedly telling him to stop.
She eventually performed oral sex on Richardson at his demand, she said, believing it was the only way she could get him to let her go. He then allowed her to leave after she promised to return for more sex, she said.
She went immediately to the police, the woman said.
She said she had gone to Richardson’s house to talk about his responsibility as the father of another woman’s child, the victim said.
Richardson had previously signed a different plea agreement to a reduced misdemeanor charge, but withdrew his plea.
McKeon offered to let him withdraw his plea when a defense witness, after cross-examination, said he wanted to change his sentencing recommendation. The witness said information provided to him at that hearing led him to believe Richardson seemed to be in denial of his guilt.
Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl at this week’s hearing told McKeon that her reasons to amend the charge to a misdemeanor were listed in the motion. The reason listed was that the prosecution believed it had sufficient evidence to prove the misdemeanor charge, but would have difficulty with the felony charge in proving lack of consent beyond a reasonable doubt.
McKeon said the sentence is appropriate because it allows Richardson to meet his financial obligations while encouraging his rehabilitation and reducing his risk to society, while following the sentencing recommendations and keeping him under the jurisdiction of the court. If he violates those conditions, the sentence could be revoked, and he could be sentenced to the maximum, six months in jail, McKeon said.