Accused molester faces mandatory life sentence if convicted

Richard Keller

WOODSTOCK – The stakes for an accused child molester grew Friday when a judge ruled that the defendant’s alleged offenses qualified for an automatic life sentence if he is convicted at a jury trial scheduled for January.

Richard Owen Keller, 40, formerly of 481 Stover Ave., is facing five counts related to child molestation stemming from what authorities describe as offenses committed against two boys.

Keller was already facing a potential life sentence if convicted, but the jury would have had the option of choosing a lesser sentence. But as a result of the ruling on Friday by Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola will be allowed to incorporate a previous sex offense committed by Keller into the current charges against him. Doing so makes Keller eligible for a mandatory life sentence.

Hupp also ruled the jury could hear about Keller’s previous sex crime during the phase of the trial held to determine his guilt or innocence. Most criminal cases heard by a jury prohibit the prosecution from introducing a defendant’s prior criminal record until the sentencing phase of the trial.

David Hensley, Keller’s attorney, argued against allowing the jury to hear anything about his client’s previous record while his guilt or innocence is being decided.

“I submit it’s unfair. It’s prejudicial. It’s inflammatory,” Hensley told Hupp.

Campola cited several cases decided in Virginia courts to support his argument that Keller’s record could be heard by the jury before a verdict is rendered.

Authorities accuse Keller of committing sex offenses in March 2012 against two boys at a Strasburg residence where they lived with their mother.

The boys’ mother was unaware that Keller had been listed on the Virginia sex offender registry as a result of his convictions in Pennsylvania in May 2000 on charges of indecent assault and aggravated indecent assault.

Keller was placed on the Virginia sex offender registry in 2005, but failed to renew his status as a sex offender, an offense for which he was convicted in 2013, one year after he allegedly molested the boys in Strasburg.

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