By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK - An Edinburg man will serve six months in jail under a plea agreement reached Wednesday after doubts were raised about whether the defendant voluntarily confessed to a charge of aggravated sexual battery against a minor.
Judge Dennis L. Hupp said in a written statement that the circumstances under which Christopher Lee Funk, 26, confessed to Mount Jackson Police Chief J.D. Fadley raised doubts about whether the statement could be admitted into evidence. Hupp's comments came after defense attorney Charles Ramsey and assistant commonwealth's attorney Louis Campola explained the terms of the agreement to him.
Funk was accused of molesting a 2-year-old girl who is now 4 years old. Funk was sentenced to a total of five years in prison, 4 1/2 of which was suspended. The sentence also carries a period of three years supervised probation to be followed by another three years of unsupervised probation.
Aggravated sexual battery carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison under state law.
"In this case, the defendant confessed to the abuse but did so under circumstances that raise questions as to whether the confession would be admissible into evidence," Hupp wrote.
"Under constitutional principles, only a voluntary confession may be admitted against the defendant," Hupp said. "Here the defendant went to a law enforcement agency because he was suicidal. According to the proffer of evidence, the officer agreed to help him get mental health treatment but only after he talked about allegations of sexual abuse of which the officer was aware."
Hupp added that Funk was hospitalized at a mental health treatment facility for a week after he confessed.
"All of this gives rise to a very real question as to whether the statements were admissible," Hupp wrote of the confession. "Without the statements, the commonwealth's case was not nearly as strong."
Funk agreed to enter an Alford plea of guilty under which he continues to assert his innocence but admits the prosecution may have enough evidence to obtain a conviction.
Hupp cited a requirement that Funk register as a sex offender and maintain his registration for the rest of his life as an important goal of the plea agreement from the prosecution's perspective.
A phone message seeking comment from Fadley about the case was not returned.
Ramsey and Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley agreed in separate interviews that Funk's confession may not have survived a challenge to its admissibility in a trial.
"I'm not necessarily saying he did anything wrong," Ramsey said of the confession obtained by Fadley. "But it was questionable and that would have been the impetus behind a motion to suppress."
Wiseley, Ramsey and Hupp also cited the age of the victim as a major reason why the sentence was far less than the state's sentencing guidelines for aggravated sexual battery.
"In this case, we have to worry about whether even at 4 years old she would be competent to testify, much less if she can remember what happened when she was two," Wiseley said of the victim.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org