A Milton man pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and exploitation charges in Franklin County Superior Court on Wednesday after police arrested him for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Jacob Burnham, 25, was charged with three felonies after he was detained on February 14 at the Highgate Port of Entry to Canada, where he attempted to bring the girl for a Valentine’s Day date, a police affidavit says.
Police say U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents became suspicious of Burnham and the girl during routine questioning and learned they were involved in a sexual relationship.
Due to their age difference, agents contacted the Northwest Unit for Special Investigations, which investigates sex and child abuse crimes. NUSI officers then learned the girl had sent nude photos of herself to Burnham and had other photos indicating they were in a close relationship, the affidavit says.
Burnham told agents he didn’t plan to cross the border; instead, he only wanted to ask if he could enter Canada because he has a DUI conviction and planned to attend a bachelor party in a few months, the document says.
The girl eventually admitted the real reason for their trip, police said.
Officers also interviewed the victim’s father, who said he thought Burnham was only 17 years old and that his daughter had been dating Burnham for a year or so, the affidavit says.
Police later found text messages on the girl’s phone dating back to May 2016, showing she and Burnham discussed lying to her father about Burnham’s age, court documents show.
Agents with Homeland Security Investigations subsequently detained the girl’s cell phone to look into possible cross-border human trafficking, the affidavit says.
On Tuesday, the girl’s father received an automated message from her middle school, stating she was absent. The girl told police Burnham picked her up from school because she was sick, and that her father was OK with it, the affidavit says.
During interviews with law enforcement, both Burnham and the victim eventually admitted to having sexual intercourse at Burnham’s home on Slim Brown Road in Milton. The girl told police it was her idea “and that she pushed him into it because he was concerned about her age,” the affidavit says.
During Burnham’s arraignment Wednesday, Chittenden County state’s attorney Emily McCarthy suggested Judge A. Gregory Rainville set Burnham’s bail at $20,000, due to his possible flight risk.
“The defendant manipulated [the victim] in a number of ways … which suggests potential absconding,” said McCarthy, who was conferenced in by phone.
Defense attorney Steve Dunham, only assigned to Burnham for his initial appearance, argued Burnham is a lifelong resident and denied he’d try to flee.
Judge Rainville said facing three felonies with a combined possible sentence of 30 years in prison is enough to flee. He called the case “extremely concerning” because it involves a 13-year-old girl leaving the country.
In the end, he ordered Burnham held at Northwest State Correctional Facility until he meets a $20,000 unsecured appearance bond and until a responsible adult approved by the court could take him in and ensure his release conditions are met.
These include refraining from contacting the victim and staying 300 feet from her home and school, court documents show.