Dionne sentenced to three years in prison for molesting 10-year-old in Old Lyme
Christopher Dionne, once an aspiring television performer living in an upscale home in Old Lyme with his family, is now a convicted sex offender headed to prison for three years.
His wife has left the area with their children and said during his sentencing hearing Wednesday in New London Superior Court that she is divorcing him. The case had received international attention because of his TV career.
Dionne, 37, was convicted at a trial in October of risk of injury to a minor and fourth-degree sexual assault. In taking his case to a jury, he turned down an offer to plead guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for a sentence that did not involve prison time.
He contends he is innocent of touching his daughter's best friend's buttocks and breasts during a Nov. 26, 2017, sleepover at his home at 4 Village Lane and is likely to appeal.
Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed said that in crafting the sentence of seven years in prison, suspended after three years served, followed by 10 years of sexual offender probation, she had considered his lack of a criminal record and the seriousness of the offense. She said Dionne would be required to register as a sexual offender and imposed a standing criminal protective order that prohibits him from contact with the victim for the remainder of his life.
The victim did not attend the sentencing hearing, but her mother spoke at length about the cost to the girl and their family for reporting the crime.
"How much is a little girl worth?" asked the mother, who is not being identified in order to protect the identity of the victim. "How much is a family worth?"
The child still believed in the Elf on the Shelf and the Easter Bunny, and had no idea about sex, when she came home from a Nov. 26, 2017, sleepover and disclosed, while curled up, rocking back and forth and crying, what had happened at her best friend's house, the mother said. The girl said Dionne told the girl her best friend would not have a father, and he would go to jail, if she told anyone. The girl begged her mother not to tell anyone, and was subject to public humiliation and the target of hate messages on social media after the mother went to police.
"Was doing the right thing in fact the right thing for the best interest of my daughter?" the woman said, breaking down as she stood with Victim Services Advocate Stephanie Barber to deliver her victim impact statement.
The family felt increasingly isolated during the two years the case was pending, and her daughter kept saying, "Mom, this ruined everybody's life. I should have never told. I just wanted to be a normal kid," according to the mother.
The victim's family has filed a civil lawsuit against Dionne.
Prosecutor Theresa Anne Ferryman had tried the case with Inspector Philip Fazzino.
In addition to the testimony from the victim and her mother, the state had presented evidence showing Dionne's DNA was found in the inner waistband of the child's pajama bottoms and had showed the jury a videotape of a forensic interview conducted by specialists at the Yale New Haven Children's Hospital.
Attorney Michael D. Dwyer had represented Dionne at the trial. For the post-trial proceedings, including sentencing, Dionne sought additional legal representation from attorneys Norman A. Pattis and Kevin Smith.
Dionne, wearing a snug Irish sweater and khakis, hugged his friends and family members before sitting at the defense table. When the judge asked him if he wanted to speak, Dionne said he didn't wish to address or disparage anyone, thanked his friends and family for their support and even expressed gratitude to the prosecutor.
The judge said she had received many letters of support from members of the community.
The trial testimony had revealed that Dionne and the victim's mother had been exchanging inappropriate text messages before the child made the disclosure, and when addressing the court, Dionne's wife, Summer, said that many things about the case seemed strange to her. She said her two children still need their father and the couple would do whatever is in their best interest.
Pattis said the evidence against Dionne had been "far from overwhelming."
"All we have is a thin claim in a case that could have gone either way," he said.
According to testimony, Dionne was preparing to travel to California for work when he came home from a bar and sexually touched the child, who was sleeping on a couch in the same room with his daughter.
His aspiring television career came to a halt following his arrest. He had appeared with his identical twin brother on an episode of HGTV's "Family Flip." They were taping a show called "House Rescue" for A&E, but it was suspended.