Ex-Gunnery dean sentenced to 91„2 years

SPECTRUM/Robert Reinhardt, a former dean at The Gunnery in Washington, was sentenced June 17, 2011 to 9 1/2 years in prison. Courtesy of The Gunnery
SPECTRUM/Robert Reinhardt, a former dean at The Gunnery in Washington, was sentenced June 17, 2011 to 9 1/2 years in prison. Courtesy of The GunneryContributed Photo

Two years ago, prior to resigning amid allegations of sexual molestation of a 15-year-old male student, Robert Reinhardt was a respected and well-liked dean at The Gunnery, a private preparatory school in Washington.

Even after his arrest two months later -- the educator was eventually charged with sexual assault against four male students -- Mr. Reinhardt was surrounded by support from The Gunnery staff, parents and students, many of whom attended his numerous hearings at state Superior Court in the Litchfield, sitting not far from families of his victims.

On Friday morning -- after more than an hour of stomach-churning testimony from victims' lawyers and family members, and one victim himself, all of whom portrayed Mr. Reinhardt as a sexual predator of young males -- the 46-year-old former teacher, coach and administrator was sentenced to 27 years in prison, suspended after 9 1/2 years.

He pleaded guilty under the Alford Doctrine to three counts of second-degree sexual assault and one charge of risk of injury to a minor.

The Alford Doctrine allows a suspect to maintain innocence, but accept the prosecution has enough evidence to win a conviction at trial, and often results in a less harsh sentence.

In addition to the prison term, Mr. Reinhardt will be placed on 30 years of probation and must register as a sex offender.

Judge Charles Gill also placed conditions on the probation, including treatment, even medication, for Mr. Reinhardt, whom he described as a sexual hebephile, or someone who sexually abuses young adolescents rather than children.

Also, the judge placed requirements Mr. Reinhardt not be employed where he would have any contact with minors or have any personal Internet access without supervision by his probation officer.

Efforts to reach school officials at The Gunnery for comment were unsuccessful.

Wearing light khaki pants and a yellow shirt with a black jacket and white sneakers, Mr. Reinhardt remained stoic throughout the proceedings.

After he was handcuffed and led to the court basement to await transfer to a New Haven jail, his family and a few friends shed quiet tears while the victims' families cried and hugged each other in the court gallery.

One of Mr. Reinhardt's victims -- none was required to publicly identify himself in court -- offered a quick glare at his former mentor in court Friday and said Mr. Reinhardt manipulated him when he was 16 into a two-year sexual relationship while his mother was dying of cancer, and threatened to expose him and ruin his education if he spoke out.

"I will always despise him for that," said the now young adult.

He told the court Mr. Reinhardt has attempted to cast himself as a wronged victim, but that is far from the truth.

"That's what he does. He tricks you. I'm a changed man because of this and not for the better," said the former student, who admits finding it difficult to trust and forge relationships.

None of Mr. Reinhardt's supporters spoke for the record; after the sentencing friends also declined to comment.

Only his lawyer, William Dow, offered remarks.

By accepting a plea bargain, Mr. Dow said, Mr. Reinhardt spared his four accusers -- three of whom have filed civil lawsuits -- the anguish of testifying in a trial.

Mr. Dow said Mr. Reinhardt is accepting a punishment that will require he give up all of his personal liberties for at least eight years, if he is eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his prison term.

Without condemning his client, Mr. Dow suggested all parties should look ahead toward a more promising future rather than dwell on the past.

He also offered this quote as a suggestion for how his client should interpret his past and future: "Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future."

Mr. Reinhardt spoke one brief sentence.

"I'm sorry for all the events that have occurred," he said in a flat voice.

From the start, the families said Mr. Reinhardt showed no remorse.

He has been free on almost $1 million bond while living with his sister in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Reinhardt left a prestigious college post prior to taking the job at The Gunnery.

At the Washington school, he sought out vulnerable, confused young males and insinuated himself into their lives as a friend and father figure, in some cases even vacationing with their families, said Avon lawyer Susan Smith, who represents three of the four victims.

New London lawyer Robert Reardon spoke on behalf of the youngest of the victims, who dropped out of high school and works bagging groceries.

Mr. Reinhardt was a "polished sexual predator" who conned his victims into a "silent conspiracy," Ms. Smith said.

Such abuse "cannot be excused or justified," she added.

One victim's mother, who, with her husband, attended numerous hearings, spoke of how her 15-year-old son was ostracized after he courageously reported the sexual assault and opted to continue his education at The Gunnery.

She said she is offended that to this day Mr. Reinhardt refuses to acknowledge the damage he has caused the students and families.

Evidence found in Mr. Reinhardt's apartment included 18 pairs of boys' boxer shorts, some of them initialed, indicating the four males were not his only victims, she and Ms. Smith noted.

"He is guilty," the mother said adamantly.

At one point, she was comforted by Victim Advocate Cheryl Ferris as she struggled to maintain her composure.

"My son showed real courage," the mother continued. "He did the responsible thing by reporting (the crime). He behaved more responsibly at 15 than this man has at 46."

She turned slightly toward Mr. Reinhardt, seated next to his lawyer at a desk on the left side of the courtroom, and continued, "It's time for him to man up ... to take full responsibility for his actions."

Senior State's Attorney Terri Sonnemann said she recognizes no sentence can heal the wounds suffered by the victims in this case. To do that would require turning the clock back nine years when the abuse started for one of the victims.

At least with this conviction, Ms. Sonnemann said, she hopes these young men and their families can again move forward with their lives.

"There is hope -- there has to be,'' Ms. Sonnemann said.

Judge Gill, known for his expertise in child abuse and assault crimes, offered his own observation.

To the victims, he said, "You are victims. You did not do anything wrong. Period.''

Then Judge Gill assured the families Mr. Reinhardt did not trick him. Mr. Reinhardt's plea and sentence make him a convicted sex offender, a crime even fellow inmates deplore.

"I know how prison operates,'' Judge Gill said. "His type of crime will make him quite unpopular.''

With the bailiffs standing ready with handcuffs, Judge Gill closed the proceedings with these final words: "I urge all of you to have hope, faith and courage."

"There is hope -- there has to be.''

Terri Sonnemann

Senior State's Attorney