Haverhill man gets 2 1/2-year prison term for raping disabled woman placed in his family's care

Joseph Gagnon, 54, of Haverhill was sentenced to 2 to 21/2 years in state prison.

HAVERHILL — A 54-year-old Haverhill man is going to prison after pleading guilty to raping a mentally disabled woman placed in his home by an adult foster care agency.

Joseph Gagnon pleaded guilty in Lawrence Superior Court to rape, indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 (two counts), and permitting abuse of a disabled person, according to the Essex District Attorney’s Office.

Judge C. William Barrett sentenced Gagnon to 2 to 2 ½ years in state prison, followed by two years of probation. The ruling happened Monday in a change-of-plea hearing, the district attorney’s office said.

In March 2017, Gagnon was charged with the crimes, police said.

Investigators said Gagnon raped the woman, who was in her late 30s at the time, while she was in the care of him and his now-estranged wife at their 177 Liberty St. home. They received money from the state to care for the disabled woman in their home, police said.

Police said the woman was placed in Gagnon’s home by an adult foster care agency. When the woman was a child, she was removed from the home of her biological family due to neglect and abuse, according to a police report.

Police said Gagnon coerced the victim into sexual encounters by telling her that he loved her and hated his wife. He threatened to have the victim removed from his home if she told anyone about their sexual contact, police said.

The judge ordered that while Gagnon is on probation, he must have no contact with the victim, must comply with a restraining order, undergo a sex offender evaluation and seek treatment deemed necessary by court officials. The judge also ordered Gagnon to comply with the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board and remain drug free with random screenings.

Essex Assistant District Attorney Jessica Strasnick prosecuted the case, and was assisted by Essex Victim Witness Advocate Michelle DeFeo and Haverhill police Detective Penny Portalla. Gagnon was represented by Attorney Scott Gleason of Haverhill.

In February 2020, Gagnon was sentenced to nine months probation after pleading guilty to several charges of violating an abuse prevention order granted to his estranged wife by a judge, court officials said.

Police said Gagnon sent more than 300 harassing text messages to his estranged wife, questioning her about her visitors and her whereabouts. Police said he also called her on the phone on two occasions, which were additional violations of the abuse prevention order.

During a bench trial on Feb. 5, 2020, in Haverhill District Court, Gagnon pleaded guilty to three instances of violating a restraining order and was sentenced by Judge Jean Curran to nine months probation. Curran also ordered Gagnon to stay away from his estranged wife, abide by a abuse prevention order and stay away from 177 Liberty St., his former home.

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