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Nine years later, man convicted of rape again

A Vietnam veteran who said he was a victim of war stress was convicted Thursday for a second time of the 1981 rape-kidnap of a woman who disclosed her identity in frustration over years of delay. "God, yea!" said victim Sue Kremelberg, 35, her fists raised in the air, after the verdicts were read. She and her family then hugged in the courtroom.

Robert Percy, 39, was accused of raping Kremelberg in 1981 while out on bail after raping an Essex attorney, Susan Sweetser, just weeks earlier.

In both cases Percy was convicted of rape. In his appeals of both cases, the Vermont Supreme Court overturned the convictions on procedural errors and sent them back for retrial.

The Sweetser rape led to a second conviction in 1988 and last month the high court upheld the verdict.

For years, Kremelberg and Sweetser have had to return again and again to court to recite the stories of their rapes. Outrage over those experiences prompted them to go public with their cases this summer.

They shed the anonymity customarily shrouding rape victims hoping to provoke changes in a complex and sluggish judicial system they say favors defendants.

Percy, who blamed his crime on his stressful legacy from combat in the Vietnam War, can still appeal this verdict to the Vermont Supreme Court.

His lawyer didn't say whether an appeal would be made.

Percy's conviction Thursday of sexual assault, kidnapping, armed robbery and committing a felony while carrying a concealed weapon will add to his current sentence of 18 to 20 years for raping Sweetser. He was eligible for parole in 1994.

Sentencing in the Kremelberg case is expected within the next few months.

State Attorney General Jeffrey Amestoy predicted the women's public complaints would yield improvements in the state's justice system.

The Kemelberg and Sweetser cases are "significant beyond the particular cases because they are symbolic of some problems in Vermont's criminal justice system," Amestoy said.

"First and foremost, we need an amendment to Vermont's constitution to clearly establish the authority of Vermont judges to deny bail when the defendant poses a danger to the public," he said.

He also will push for a way to speed up the Vermont Supreme Court's review of appeals and will propose legislation mandating a minimum 15 years to life in prison for anyone convicted of three violent felonies.

Percy said he was insane at the time he was supposed to have raped the women, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and reliving a Vietnam War flashback.

Defense attorney James Dumont said in closing arguments Wednesday that Percy was "wounded in the brain" by his Vietnam experience.

But prosecutor Phillip Cykon countered that Percy was in control of his actions.

"The defendant was acting in a way that was his continuing anti-social behavior. They were the actions of a defendant who was in control," Cykon said.

Kremelberg's nine-hour ordeal the night of Jan. 16, 1981, began when she stopped at a gasoline station where Percy was working.

Percy told her to back her car to the air pump because her left tire looked low. There Percy jumped into the car and forced Kremelberg at gunpoint to drive away. He tied her up and raped her twice.

"First and foremost, we need an amendment to Vermont's constitution to clearly establish the authority of Vermont judges to deny bail when the defendant poses a danger to the public."

_ Jeffrey Amestoy,

Vermont attorney general