Robert Neal Batie, the 59-year-old counselor arrested last year on charges of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old patient he’d groomed over weeks of therapy at a private practice in Palm Coast, was sentenced to 17 years in prison today, followed by 13 years on probation.
Batie pleaded guilty to the charges, avoiding a trial and a potential conviction that may have resulted in life in prison. As it is, the sentence is close to that: Batie would be 76 years old at the time of release. He has a year and three months’ credit for time already served.
Batie intends to appeal. There were no words of apology or remorse, as is sometimes the case when the sentence has not been determined.
Members of the victim’s family were in the room. They declined to address the court when offered. One of the family members stared dead ahead, as if at the empty witness stand to the right of Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, clearly not wanting to look at Batie as he stood at the lectern, tendering his plea next to his attorney, Michael Lambert. (An earlier version of this article incorrectly included the victim among those present.)
Batie for some reason had earlier flashed a big smile either at some of the inmates who were also in the courtroom for their own cases, or at someone in the audience.
Five members of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office who had investigated the case were also in the room. None were called to testify.
Batie was also declared a sexual predator.
Batie in August 2021 was charged with a count of raping a minor between 12 and 18 as a custodian–as a person who was in charge of the minor at the time–a charge punishable by life in prison, two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, each punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and a count of sexual misconduct by a psychotherapist.
In October Lambert attempted to have the gravest charge dropped, arguing that Batie had been the girl’s therapist but at no point had acted as a custodian. Lambert said the girl was free to leave, that Batie had no authority over her, and that the girl was no different than any other client who could come and go as the client pleased.
The victim was a 16-year-old junior in a local high school when she was referred to Palm Coast Counseling by the school district. She was suffering from anxiety. The agency assigned Batie to the case. Eleven one-hour sessions took place, from March 29, 2021, to June 28, 2021.
By then, Batie knew he was leaving the Palm Coast practice to take a job in another county, so the June 28 session was to be the last. The girl brought him a book about body language as gift, with a note, telling Batie she would miss him and not to forget her. She provided a cell number. It was during that session that Batie sexually abused the girl.
Batie had been held on $450,000 bond for the past 15 months. He asked the court, through Lambert, whether the court could designate a prison where he would serve. He wants to serve at a Central Florida prison, “because that’s where his family is,” Lambert said.
“We don’t typically do that, judge,” Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark said. Perkins said he did want to “inadvertently” make a recommendation that would be contrary to the Department of Corrections’ determination of what would be in Batie’s best interest.
The state generally does not take family proximity into account when imprisoning offenders.
According to the terms of the plea and the sentence, Batie is to relinquish his license as a psychotherapist–which he has already done–and forego any employment in health care or counseling upon release. As a predator, his employment will be severely restricted. Lambert repeatedly noted that the appeal may change his circumstances. Batie is hoping to have the most serious count reversed, in hopes that the court of appeal will be more inclined to accept Lambert’s argument that Batie was not the girl’s custodian at the time of the assaults. (There had been more than one assault, the prosecution specified.)
“If something were to happen with regard to count one on appeal, he would be a sexual offender,” Lambert said. The sexual offender designation is less severe, and less restrictive, than the predator designation, though for most, the difference is a matter of degrees.
Even if the first count were reversed, Batie was nevertheless sentenced to 15 years in prison on the second count, followed by 13 years of sexual offender probation. So he would still be in his mid-70s at the time of release. Sexual offenders are not eligible for gain time, or early release for good behavior, after serving 85 percent of their sentence.
Batie was also sentenced to 5 years in prison on the fourth count. But all the prison terms are to be served concurrently. Only one of the probation count is to be served consecutively, meaning that it’ll start once Batie is released.
After the assault, Batie had told the victim not to say anything to anyone or else he could get in “big trouble,” according to his arrest report.
The victim’s family members, the deputies and the detectives immediately left after the sentence.