“I’m innocent; I’m an innocent man,” said longtime Aspen bartender Peter Nardi as he was led away from the Pitkin County Courthouse and back to jail late Monday afternoon.
His comment followed District Judge Gail Nichols’ decision to give Nardi, 52, a 15-years-to-life sentence for his April 18 conviction on felony sexual assault and five other charges.
The 15-year combined sentence on six charges included an “indeterminate sentence” of 11 years to life on the sexual-assault charge alone. A 1998 state law that applies to convicted sexual offenders offers them a choice of getting treatment or staying incarcerated for life. The minimum sentence Nichols could have handed down on the sexual-assault charge was 10 years to life.
Even when he complete the 15 years behind bars, Nardi won’t be eligible for parole until he completes a number of stipulations, including an admission of guilt and completion of an intensive prison program aimed at rehabilitating sex offenders.
The aggregate sentence was less than the 25-year prison term Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan had requested. Still, Bryan and co-prosecutor Jason Slothouber said they were pleased with Nichols’ ruling.
“Obviously it wasn’t exactly what we asked for, but I think the judge made a careful decision in the end,” Bryan said. “I just really want to commend the jury, in the end, for their decision in following the evidence and not falling prey to a lot of myths and victim-blaming that happens in these cases. I’m very happy about that and happy that he won’t be able to (harm) anyone else anytime soon.”
Slothouber said he thought the sentence was appropriate in light of the jury’s verdict “and the really sadistic nature of the offense. I think that justice was served.”
He described Nardi’s continued assertion of innocence as “unfortunate” given the jury’s decision.
“As the judge indicated, that will definitely have some consequences on the indeterminate sentence that he is facing as part of this,” Slothouber said.
A few of Nardi’s supporters spoke in his defense, but the woman who brought charges against him — his girlfriend of several months from August 2012 to April 2013 — also was present in the courtroom. During the April trial, she described a Peter Nardi who became increasingly jealous and controlling prior to the last week of their relationship, which was rife with verbal and physical altercations.
She had accused him of a night of terror at her apartment on April 6, 2013, alleging digital penetration. She also said he covered her head with a pillow as he beat her, poured water down her nose and throat, stuffed his underwear inside her mouth and opened her eyelids and spit inside her eyes.
In court on Monday, she fought back tears as she asked the judge to impose a harsh penalty.
“He is a predator,” she said. “He has a long history of doing this.”
If paroled from jail early or given a lenient sentence, the woman said, “I think he will kill the next woman he’s with.”
NOT A PREDATOR?
But Nichols noted that a pre-sentencing report from the state probation office, containing information from an incomplete psychosexual evaluation, indicates that Nardi “is not a sexually violent predator.”
And prior to handing down the sentence, she provided her own assessment of the case.
As Bryan had done at the beginning of the sentencing hearing, the judge pointed out that Nardi has two prior felony convictions, both older than a decade. She also said that two women whom Nardi dated in the past — one of whom is now an ardent supporter — successfully obtained restraining orders against him, but not for physically violent actions against them.
The judge suggested that Nardi finally met a woman who would fight back against him when he displayed abusive behavior.
Nardi has positive attributes, Nichols said. He has had a good work history in Aspen and often has exhibited generosity to people in need. He has many female friends, many of whom sent her letters to lobby for a light sentence, she explained.
Nichols said she disagreed with the prosecutors in that she believes Nardi can learn from his mistakes of the past. Nichols said she didn’t think sexual assault was Nardi’s primary motive on the so-called night of terror.
Rather, his actions represented an escalating trend of domestic violence in the relationship and his need for control, the judge said.
Nichols said she understands why Nardi’s supporters are pointing fingers at the victim, given that domestic violence is not always apparent.
However, the judge added, “The bottom line is, no matter what, the victim cannot be blamed.”
One of Nardi’s defense attorneys, John Van Ness, of Carbondale, said that Nardi faces a serious dilemma because of the indeterminate sentence. Nardi believes he is innocent, but he cannot be paroled unless he admits his guilt and that admission is backed up by a polygraph exam, Van Ness said.
If Nardi is innocent, “Why would he feel remorse?” Van Ness asked rhetorically.
Van Ness said without the sexual-assault charge, Nardi would only be looking at a four-year sentence.
He also questioned the jury’s guilty verdict on one of the charges, a violation of bail-bond conditions. In that September 2013 incident, Nardi was distraught because Van Ness filed a motion to withdraw as his attorney. Nardi skipped a scheduled court appearance, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Nardi was “distraught” and “paralyzed,” Van Ness said. He was sleeping on a friend’s couch at a King Street residence in Aspen, not trying to flee prosecution.
“If he had wanted to avoid prosecution, he would have disappeared,” the defense attorney said.
‘A TIME BOMB’
But Bryan had called Nardi’s actions “evil” and “sadistic.” She called Nardi “a ticking time bomb” with a complete lack of respect for the judicial system.
The sexual assault, Bryan acknowledged, did not result in the type of extreme physical pain commonly experienced by rape victims. Instead, it was an emotional pain “that can never be healed.”
Nardi has female friends and supporters, the prosecutor said, perhaps because he knows how to throw a good dinner party. But he is able to mask his true personality to suit his behavior, she said.
During his brief comments before the judge, Nardi maintained his innocence and said he looks forward to an appeal and a new trial.
The six charges for which Nardi was convicted include three felonies — sexual assault, attempted assault and the bond violation — and three misdemeanors related to false imprisonment and assault.
Nardi has been held in the Pitkin County Jail since the guilty verdicts were returned by a jury on April 18.