Maurertown man sentenced in child sex case
WOODSTOCK — A Maurertown man who entered an Alford plea of guilty to two child sex offenses was sentenced on Friday to two years in prison.
Dennis Lee Branham, 69, maintains his innocence with the Alford plea that he entered in September to two counts of taking indecent liberties with children after he sexually assaulted two girls, aged 5 and 6 years old, between January and August 2016. The plea agreement called for the dismissal of two charges of aggravated sexual battery against a child younger than 13.
The sex offender evaluation found that Branham was at low-risk of reoffending, and that he did not meet any of the criteria for being a pedophile. The pre-sentence investigation and the sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence of two years and two months at the high end because Branham did not have a prior criminal history and demonstrated good general self control.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola argued for a sentence that would exceed the guidelines given the circumstances of the crime. He said that he and the defense entered the plea agreement because they did not want to make the young victims have to relive their traumatic experiences by testifying on the stand.
“These two young girls will have to live with this trauma for the rest of their lives,” Campola said.
Campola also pointed out that juries in Shenandoah County have often recommended the maximum sentence in child sex offenses, and that sentencing Branham to serve at least 10 years imprisonment would show that “child molesters” will be punished when families come forward with abuse cases.
William Allen III, Branham’s attorney, asked that his client be given a suspended sentence with probation. Allen’s reasoning was that Branham had an “exemplary life” before the offense, and emphasized that there were no factors in the sex offender evaluation that would suggest that Branham would reoffend.
Branham apologized to his family for his actions at Friday’s hearing, and said that the acts he was accused of — rubbing lotion on the girls as well as the touching of genitals — were never intended to be sexual, but that he understands how a third party may see it that way.
Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp took about 15 minutes to read over the sentencing documents in his chambers before delivering his sentence.
“These are the types of offenses that this court certainly finds extremely troubling,” Hupp said when he returned to the bench.
Hupp also noted that thisit was not a case where sex offender rehabilitation would be of concern because Branham still maintains his innocence, and an admission of guilt is a key component in that treatment. Hupp noted that Branham has no prior criminal history, and the sex offender evaluation did not deem the treatment to be necessary.
Branham was sentenced to serve two years of a 12-year prison sentence, and must complete three years of supervised probation upon his release, followed by seven years of unsupervised probation. Branham is also prohibited from any contact with the victims, and any unsupervised contact with any woman under the age of 18. He was taken into custody after Friday’s proceeding.