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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Tyler Garstang watches as court officers walk to handcuff him after his sentencing in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua Wednesday, February 22, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Tyler Garstang stands after his sentencing Wednesday, February 22, 2012.
  • Tyler Garstang

    Photo courtesy of Merrimack Police
Thursday, February 23, 2012

Man to serve eight months for assaulting inebriated teenager at Merrimack house party

NASHUA – A Merrimack man was sentenced to eight months in jail Wednesday for sexually assaulting a high school girl who passed out after drinking at a house party.

Tyler Garstang, 20, originally faced felony charges. In a deal cut with prosecutors, Garstang pleaded guilty instead to misdemeanor sexual assault. Prosecutors asked the judge to send Garstang to jail for the maximum 12 months. His attorney argued for 30 days.

Judge Kathleen McGuire imposed a 12-month sentence, with four months suspended for good behavior.

McGuire, a retired judge substituting in Hillsborough County Superior Court, said Garstang was a “predator” the night he assaulted a drunk 17-year-old girl at a May 28 party in Merrimack.

That Garstang also had been drinking didn’t excuse his crime, McGuire said in imposing what the judge called “significant jail time.”

Witnesses told police the victim had more to drink at the unsupervised house party than any other guest. Realizing she was drunk, she went into a bedroom to sleep it off and woke up with someone on top of her.

At first, she thought it was someone she knew, but then realized “the person in bed next to her was not the person she thought it was,” said the prosecutor, Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Dave Tencza.

She then pushed him away screaming, asking what he had just done, Tencza said.

Witnesses told police that the victim hadn’t spoken with Garstang during the party, Tencza said.

The victim appeared in court with friends and family and read a statement before Garstang was sentenced, handcuffed and led out of court to serve his sentence in Valley Street jail in Manchester.

“I’m afraid that anywhere I go I’m looked down upon and judged,” said the victim, now 18 and finishing high school. “I feel a need to control every aspect of my life because I’m afraid of losing control completely.”

The victim choked back tears as she read her statement. All the while, Garstang sat stone-faced, staring straight ahead, his family seated several rows behind him in court.

The assault eroded her trust in people, the victim said.

“I’m afraid to turn into somebody I don’t like,” she said.

The victim said she still feels “anger and sadness, humiliation and shame … even though I know I did nothing wrong.”

She said she was naive and didn’t think that some one could have such “little respect for women” to “sink so low as to take advantage of her.”

Tencza called the crime “horrific.” After court, he told a reporter the state didn’t pursue felony charges partly because of the difficulty of proving the case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

The victim’s credibility was never in question, Tencza said.

“The state believes this is a predatory act,” he argued in court.

However, Garstang’s attorney, Adam Bernstein, argued that Tencza isn’t a predator.

“This event was alcohol-fueled, nothing more, nothing less,” Bernstein said.

“He admitted the act, he admitted the inappropriateness of the act, and he accepted blame,” Bernstein said.

A psychiatrist’s evaluation determined that Garstang doesn’t exhibit predatory behavior, Bernstein said. This was a one-time incident, and Garstang is “low risk” for repeating a sexual assault, Bernstein said.

“The conviction in and of itself is a deterrent,” as well as the requirement that Garstang register as a sex offender for 10 years after he’s released from jail, Bernstein said.

Garstang has spent three days in jail – the only time in his life he had seen a jail cell – and the experience was “eye-opening” for him, Bernstein said.

“You did commit this very terrible crime,” McGuire told Garstang as she imposed the sentence. “It was a predatory act. The victim was completely helpless.”

Alcohol-fueled sexual assaults occur too frequently on college campuses and among young adults in general, she said.

“The victim’s going to be stained by this, she’s going to be affected by this for the rest of her life,” McGuire said. “It’s important to tell the community these are very serious crimes.”

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or