Man convicted on child molestation counts

Mark Darnell

WOODSTOCK – A Mount Jackson man is facing up to 30 years in prison after entering Alford pleas of guilty Tuesday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court to three counts of taking indecent liberties with children.

Judge Dennis L. Hupp ordered a pre-sentencing report and scheduled a sentencing hearing for 9 a.m. April 27 for Mark Edward Darnell.

Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola described a series of incidents involving Darnell and three girls, ages 6, 10 and 12, all of them neighbors of the defendant.

Campola said Darnell would touch the girls inappropriately, usually on visits to his residence during the last few months of 2014.

“This happened more than once, your honor,” Campola told Hupp.

Campola said the touching was done over clothing covering parts of the victims’ bodies.

Peter McDermott, an assistant public defender representing Darnell, said his client’s actions around the girls were done without sexual intent.

Alford pleas like the one entered by Darnell constitute an admission by the defendant that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him while refusing to concede actual guilt.

Two of Darnell’s sons testified on his behalf in an effort to build a case for leniency when their father is sentenced in April.

Both said they had several children and considered Darnell a warm and doting grandfather who has never behaved improperly around his grandchildren.

Mark Jamil Darnell, who lives near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, testified that his father would regularly travel two hours to visit his grandchildren.

“He is a very dedicated grandfather, more so than many grandparents that live a half hour away,” Mark Jamil Darnell said.

Mark Edward Darnell was originally charged with five counts of aggravated sexual battery, which carried a total maximum sentence of 100 years in prison. Those counts were changed to three counts of indecent liberties that carry a total maximum sentence of 30 years. Two other counts of aggravated sexual battery were dropped.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com