County man sentenced in child molesting case
WOODSTOCK – Mark Edward Darnell insisted at a sentencing hearing Wednesday that he was no child molester, but Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp decided otherwise and ordered him to serve four years and three months in prison.
The portrait of Darnell that emerged at the hearing was of a generous, kind, talented man – when he was sober. But he was also a drinker whose behavior around three girls ages 6, 10, and 12, resulted in convictions on three counts of taking indecent liberties with children.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola described Darnell’s life as “a Jekyll, Hyde situation,” a reference to a book that explores one man’s capacity for good and evil.
Campola said Darnell, 58, touched the victims several times on private parts of their bodies while they visited him at his Mount Jackson residence several times during the last few months of 2014.
“Mr. Darnell does indeed present a picture of two persons in one person,” Hupp said. When he’s sober, he’s one person, and another person when he’s drunk. ”
Hupp added: “It appears alcohol is the demon in his life, but once again that does not provide an excuse.”
The sentencing came after two hearings separated by several weeks during which friends and family members of Darnell and the defendant, himself, testified to his history of caring for children – his own and others – in ways that were always respectful and loving.
Darnell’s guilty plea in February came with an admission that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him, but he insisted then and on Wednesday that he was innocent.
Darnell choked up at times as he testified about his life and character. He steadfastly proclaimed that any touching or hugging on his part with the girls was done without sexual intent.
Campola confronted Darnell with testimony the three girls had given on videotape that he had molested them. Campola asked Darnell why three girls from two different families would all say the same thing about him.
“I do not have the slightest idea,” Darnell replied.
Campola also read aloud letters written by the three victims about the impact Darnell’s crimes have had on their lives.
“I hate him,” one girl wrote of Darnell. “I wish he was never born.”
Campola told Hupp that the girls’ wrenching letters left no doubt that they clearly understood what Darnell was doing to them.
“At this age, children have the ability to distinguish between a good hug and a bad hug,” Campola said.
Hupp noted the victims’ comments moments before imposing the sentence.
“Quite frankly, despite his claims of innocence, I think he did what these girls say he did,” Hupp said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org