Maurertown man pleads guilty by Alford to child sex charges
WOODSTOCK — Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp accepted a plea agreement Friday that called for a Maurertown man to enter an Alford plea of guilty to two amended child sex offenses.
Dennis Lee Branham, 69, entered the plea to two counts of taking indecent liberties with children after he sexually assaulted two girls, 5 and 6 years old, between January and August 2016. The Alford plea allows Branham to maintain his innocence while pleading guilty because it would be in his best interest to do so given the evidence against him.
There were two charges of aggravated sexual battery involving a child younger than 13 initially filed against Branham that Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Campola told Hupp that the reason for the plea agreement was to avoid “re-victimizing” the girls by making the young children testify in a trial after they already testified in a preliminary hearing.
Campola added that family members of both victims were in accordance with the plea agreement, and the family members in court Friday tearfully nodded in response.
Branham’s attorney, William Allen III, did not object to the prosecution’s evidence, but noted that the children’s ability to recall the events at the preliminary hearing varied from the prosecution’s evidence against his client.
Hupp said he was accepting the plea agreement in light of the family’s agreement with it and the discretion it left to him in determining the sentence. A sex offender evaluation and a pre-sentencing investigation were ordered, and a sentencing hearing was set for Nov. 3 in Shenandoah County Circuit Court. Branham faces up to 20 years imprisonment on the charges.