By Preston Knight -- email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- A Mt. Jackson man will serve no more than five years in prison for committing a sex act against an underage relative.
In Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Wednesday, David Keith Mitchell, 31, pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with the 14-year-old girl last year. As part of a plea agreement, a charge of aggravated sexual battery committed against the same girl was dropped, and a more serious accusation of having sex with the victim was amended in exchange for the man's confession. The new charge of indecent liberties carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The plea agreement had no recommendation on sentencing, leaving it up to the court at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 7. A sex offender evaluation will be conducted in the meantime.
Judge Dennis L. Hupp accepted the plea agreement, which had been in the works for weeks, after acknowledging the difficulty Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ken Alger would have with proving the more serious crime of sex between the man and victim.
According to Alger, a clerk at a Woodstock store -- revealed as Sally's Beauty Shop in court records -- saw Mitchell place his hands on the girl's buttocks in December. The witness contacted police, who later interviewed the man and girl.
After several hours, Alger said, the girl admitted that she and Mitchell had a sexual relationship, in the date range of July 1 to Nov. 30, 2010. She was upset to be interviewed, he added, and when she was later questioned by Alger would only nod yes or no to questions, supplying no details.
Alger said had the case gone to trial, it would have been hard to prove that the two had sex. The victim may have been the worst one he's had to deal with in terms of her ability to testify, he said.
"She said it at one point," Alger said of the two having had intercourse. "I don't know what she would have said [at trial]."
Because of that, the sex charge was amended. As for the aggravated sexual battery, the beauty shop clerk employee later advised that there was some question as to whether Mitchell had grabbed the small of the girl's back instead of her buttocks, Alger said.
There was no gripping observed, only touching, he added.
Mitchell has numerous probation violations in addition to the new sex offense charge, so he could still be sentenced to well above five years in prison. He has five years and six months of suspended time for violations in the past years, beginning with one after being incarcerated for possessing drugs in 2007. The violations will be addressed at the December hearing.
Before hearing from Alger that the sex between the two may not have occurred, Hupp called Mitchell's latest actions "despicable."
"I don't know of any culture in the world that condones this type of conduct," he said.
Another benefit to the commonwealth in entering the plea deal is that Mitchell will have to register as a sex offender, Hupp said.