BARRE — The student who faced the most serious charges for the dorm-room attack of a classmate at Norwich University this fall appeared in court Wednesday to accept a plea deal that included no jail time.
Ryan Shea, 21, was originally charged with two felony counts: aggravated assault and burglary into an occupied dwelling, which together carried a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Under the terms of the plea deal, Shea instead pleaded guilty to two lesser charges: simple assault and disorderly conduct.
The most severely hurt victim suffered a serious eye injury in the attack by as many as eight Norwich University football team members, including Shea.
Judge Kirstin Schoonover sentenced Shea to 18 months of probation and 200 hours of community service on those charges.
That was in line with what was requested by Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault, who said that a rehabilitative approach would likely be better than jail time in this case. He noted that Shea had already faced significant consequences for his actions, in the form of a suspension at school, stigma from his peers, and disappointment from his father.
The victim with the eye injury, however, disagreed. He addressed the judge at the hearing and asked that Shea face “a short period of real incarceration” for what he had done. He suggested at least eight months.
“The assault was intentional, premeditated, and part of the violent and aggressive clique of Ryan Shea and those he surrounds himself with,” he said. “I do believe that Ryan Shea has a violent history that should be heavily considered at sentencing.”
He said this was the first time Shea had been caught, but that he had a long history of perpetuating the “culture of bullying and random violence” at Norwich.
Judge Schoonover thanked the victim for his bravery, and commended him for speaking out about what Shea did — but ultimately did not take his recommendation.
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“We all ought to feel safe and secure in our homes,” Schoonover said. “You can’t undo the harm that was done here. That sense of safety and security have been damaged forever. He should not have to feel this way, and it was your behavior that did this to him.”
However, Schoonover said she had to balance the effect of the assault with Shea’s lack of a criminal record, his acceptance of responsibility for his actions and apologizing for them, and that he was only 21 when the events happened.
The other three students who were charged in the assault have already had their cases resolved, either in the juvenile system or by having the charges against them dropped.
When the judge asked Shea what exactly went on that night, he told her that he knows that a physical altercation between he and some of his friends and the victims in the case broke out in the hallway of their dorm. However, Shea said, when a fight is going on, he tends to black out.
He told her that he remembered being in a shouting match that turned into pushing and shoving, and that ultimately “kind of turned out bad.”
“I should have ended the conversation in the hallway before it got heated. Unfortunately, we’d been drinking, and instead of things calming down, they escalated a lot quicker than I would have expected,” Shea said. “I regret what happened every day.”
He then went on to apologize to the victims and their families for the harm he caused.
“My father tells me this can be a good learning lesson,” Shea said. “I think that’s probably true. He says don’t be a hothead. Don’t drink and get tough. I’ve had the past five months to think about this, to understand that I put myself in this situation, and that it’s my fault. I’m going to focus on becoming a better person.”
Since his suspension, Shea has been living at home in Rockland, Massachusetts. He has been working in construction and said he is unsure if he will be able to return to Norwich, but said he would like to get his degree, as he only has one semester left of school.
Schoonover told him she sincerely hopes he follows through on that.
Shea was ordered to have no contact with his victims while on probation, to not buy or consume any alcohol, not own any weapons, and also attend counseling, participate in a restorative justice program, and pay $644 restitution for his victim’s medical bills. The judge also ordered that he complete 200 hours of community service.
“That’s a lot,” Schoonover said. “But I think it’s a perfectly appropriate sentence here.”
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