By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK -- A Strasburg man faces eight years in prison on one count of aggravated sexual battery after a last-minute plea agreement Wednesday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court.
The defendant, Mark Anthony Ratcliffe, 53, is accused of committing aggravated sexual battery against a 14-year-old girl on Feb. 4
Under the agreement, Ratcliffe would serve seven years in prison with another eight years in prison suspended. He would also serve five years of supervised probation.
Judge Dennis L. Hupp said he would take the plea agreement under advisement. Hupp said he wanted to read a pre-sentence report on Ratcliffe before deciding whether to accept the agreement.
"I do not feel comfortable accepting the agreement until I see the pre-sentence report," Hupp said, adding he follows the same procedure in other criminal cases.
Ratcliffe was scheduled for a bench trial in the afternoon, but Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Louis Campola and defense attorney William Allen III reached the plea agreement over the noon hour.
Campola agreed to drop three other charges against Ratcliffe in exchange for a conviction on one count of aggravated sexual battery.
Allen told Hupp that Ratcliffe was entering an Alford plea, which means the defendant continues to assert his innocence but concedes the prosecution has enough evidence to obtain a conviction.
Campola said he was motivated to settle the case by a desire to spare the victim and her family the strain of reliving the sexual assault during the trial.
"We didn't want to victimize the victim twice," Campola said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org