One of the mostly highly decorated police officers in Maine’s history was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old child.

Andrew Demers Jr., the former chief of the Maine State Police, broke down sobbing at one point during his sentencing hearing at the Cumberland County Courthouse, wiping tears from his eyes many times after he entered a guilty plea to a felony charge of unlawful sexual contact.

Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren sentenced Demers to five years, with the final year to be suspended while Demers serves a three-year probation term. The judge also ordered Demers to pay $5,000 restitution to pay for past and future counseling for the child.

Demers’ arrest on March 17 shocked the state’s law enforcement community, many of whom had considered him a model officer. Demers is the only officer in Maine history to be twice named the state police Trooper of the Year and was named Legendary Trooper in 2003. He served 26 years with the state police and held the department’s top position from 1987 to 1993, when he retired.

As Warren issued his sentence, he rejected a claim by Demers’ clinical psychologist that Demers’ actions were out of character and may have been a result of neurological damage from post-traumatic stress from decades of police service.

“Crimes like this come from a dark place within a person that are often buried deep within and unknown,” Warren said at the end of the three-hour hearing.

The courtroom was filled with Demers’ family members and supporters, many of whom spoke on his behalf or submitted letters attesting to his exemplary character.

At the side of the courtroom, the child’s parents sat silently near Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, who prosecuted the case and asked for a sentence of eight years.

Before he was arrested, Demers admitted to investigators to assaulting the child multiple times.

State police first received a tip about the alleged crimes on March 10 and referred the matter to the district attorney, who asked the sheriff’s office to investigate.

Anderson said in her 34 years practicing criminal law, she has made thousands of sentencing recommendations, but found Demers’ case to be one of the hardest.

“This is not something I take lightly at all because Colonel Demers was my hero, too,” Anderson said. But later she added, “There is no evidence of diminished mental capacity. That’s why I say we have a child molester here.”

Anderson read emotional letters from the parents of the victim, although they did not stand to address the court themselves.

“He took my little girl’s innocence from us,” the child’s mother wrote in the statement.

Demers’ attorney, Walter McKee, argued that his 74-year-old client has already been punished seriously since his arrest, with a ruined reputation and the heartache his actions have brought on his family.

“Andy is, by every single account, the last person that anyone ever expected would be involved in an offense like this and this alone speaks volumes about who Andy is, as he has lived his life in a way that is the farthest cry from behavior at issue here than one can imagine,” McKee wrote. “There are also very real, significant concerns about Andy’s safety while incarcerated in the custody of the Department of Corrections.”

The judge rejected McKee’s request that Demers be allowed to serve a lesser sentence in the Cumberland County Jail instead of prison, but allowed him a one-week delay before beginning his sentence on Nov. 11.

Demers broke down sobbing as his adult granddaughter spoke at the hearing about how his actions have affected their family. He spoke through tears as he stood to address the court, pulling a handkerchief from his suit coat to wipe his eyes.

“Your Honor, since my arrest I have been torn and torn with shame,” Demers said.

He did not answer a reporter’s questions as he walked out of the courtroom afterward with family members.

Demers pleaded guilty as part of an agreement reached by McKee and Anderson in which a more serious Class A felony charge of gross sexual assault was dismissed. He could have faced up to 30 years on that charge.

The District Attorney’s Office and McKee arranged for Demers to turn himself in at the county jail.

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