‘I still don’t know what I was thinking.’ Clinton County man sentenced on sexual assault charges

A Clinton County man was sentenced Tuesday to state prison after he pleaded guilty in July to two felony sexual assault charges filed three years prior.

Centre County Judge Katherine Oliver sentenced Robert Harpster to 22-48 months in prison and deemed him to be a tier three sex offender. He is required to register as a sex offender for life and received 14 days credit for time served.

Harpster, 24, was contrite when he read a prepared statement to Oliver before the sentence was announced, saying “it was my own actions that caused these consequences.”

“I know what I attempted to do was wrong and I’m sorry,” Harpster said. “To this day, I still don’t know what I was thinking.”

Harpster in July 2016 posted an ad on Craigslist seeking to have sex with a teenager. An agent from the state attorney general’s office responded as if they were a 14-year-old girl and received several sexual text messages from Harpster, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Harpster agreed to meet the fictitious girl along Airport Road in Bellefonte, but was instead met by law enforcement. Harpster admitted he posted the ad, knew the fabricated girl was underage and wanted to meet to engage in sexual activity, according to the affidavit.

He was charged with eight felonies and one misdemeanor, but pleaded guilty to one felony count each of unlawful contact with a minor and attempted aggravated indecent assault. The remaining charges were either dropped or changed.

The incident was impulsive and “a brief lapse in judgment,” defense lawyer Tom Hooper said before the sentence was announced.

Family members described Harpster as friendly, kindhearted, hard-working and accountable. Harpster worked at Port Matilda and Moshannon Valley EMS at the time he was arrested, and now works at Meyer Dairy, his mother said.

“The worst thing in life is watching your child go through something that you can’t fix,” his mother said. “... This has really taken an emotional toll on all of us.”

Harpster posted bail in July 2016 and has since enrolled in Project Point of Light, attended therapy and been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Hooper said.

Oliver agreed with Harpster’s mother that “making mistakes does not make someone a bad person” and commended Harpster for seeking treatment, but said his first step was “predatory” and continued to text the fictitious girl.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.