FRONT ROYAL – A man accused of raping two girls in 2017 avoided a jury trial and potential life sentences Thursday by pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Mike Edward Haymond stood charged in Warren County Circuit Court with four counts of rape involving a child under the age of 13. The court had scheduled a two-day jury trial to begin Thursday but called it off because parties had reached a plea agreement.

The agreement reached between Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan C. Layton and Haymond’s lawyer, David Crump, called for the defendant to plead essentially no contest to two of the indictments amended to the lesser charge of aggravated sexual battery involving one of the two victims. The court dismissed the remaining two counts of rape at the request of the commonwealth under terms of the agreement.

Haymond technically pleaded guilty under Alford v. North Carolina by which he maintains his innocence but concedes that the prosecution has sufficient evidence and he does not want to take a chance the court could find him guilty.

The agreement also called for Haymond, 58, of no fixed address, to receive a sentence of 20 years in the state penitentiary with 18 years suspended. Specifically, Haymond received 10-year consecutive terms on both sexual abuse counts with nine years suspended on each.

Rape of a child under 13 carries a maximum punishment of life in a state penitentiary. The aggravated sexual battery carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison.

Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. accepted the plea agreement and noted that the time of active punishment for the two amended indictments falls within the sentencing guidelines. Athey sentenced Haymond to the punishment called for in the agreement.

Athey also ordered Haymond to serve three years of supervised probation upon his release from incarceration followed by five years of unsupervised probation. Haymond must register as a sex offender with the state police within three days of his release from incarceration, and Athey ordered Haymond to have no contact with the victim.

Athey granted the commonwealth’s motion to dismiss the remaining two rape charges.

The two incidents to which Haymond pleaded no contest occurred between Jan. 1, 2017, and Oct. 1, 2017, Layton told the judge as part of the summary of evidence the commonwealth planned to present had the case gone to trial. Haymond entered a residence in Warren County occupied by a child under 13. He talked to the child and then “touched the victim without her consent, inappropriately, on pretty much all her sexual areas,” Layton said.

The prosecutor then tried to explain the impetus for reaching the agreement with reduced and dismissed charges. Athey said that falls under the prosecutorial discretion and prosecutors pursue only cases they feel they can prove.

“Obviously, this is a case that took some time to go through the processes,” Layton said. “There are benefits to the victim not testifying. The nature of the complaint came in some time after the events described, which, of course, limits the amount of corroborating evidence the commonwealth has.

“Part of the reason for two of the charges being nolle prossed (dismissed) is there were two different victims in reference to this; the court can see from the initials indicated,” Layton added. “The younger of the two ladies and, in the course of this, she recanted as far as her testimony went on the charges to which she had testified to at (the preliminary hearing).”

Layton went on to say “The commonwealth’s understanding is that she would testify truthfully now in accordance with that, but obviously, it creates an evidentiary concern for a jury.”

The prosecutor noted Haymond’s age and his lack of any serious criminal history or previous jail time. The community benefits from a felony conviction and the requirement that Haymond registers as a sex offender, Layton said. The commonwealth’s attorney also reached the agreement after consulting with the Warren County Department of Social Services, the Front Royal Police Department and the children’s court-appointed guardian, who has worked with the girls for years.

Athey then commented on the prosecution’s decision regarding the charges.

“It seems to me in this case the commonwealth has exercised their discretion in the case, and they moved to amend the indictments because they believe the amended indictments are what they can prove, given all the factors in the case … ” Athey said.

The judge went on to say that agreement calls for a punishment that falls within the sentencing guidelines that apply to the amended charges and that the defendant is treated like everyone else convicted and sentenced for the same crimes anywhere in Virginia.

Athey asked the defendant if Layton provided an accurate statement of the commonwealth’s evidence. Crump reiterated that his client entered an Alford plea.

“We believe this is consistent with what we heard at the preliminary hearing,” Crump said. “We believe that it could be contested but the risks are too great and Mr. Haymond has decided that this is how he wishes to proceed.”

“Obviously, this is a very difficult case,” Crump added. “Actually, I’ve been working with Mr. Haymond for over two years. I was originally appointed on a neglect and abuse (case) involving these two young girls.

“Mr. Haymond, as I’ve said, has denied the charges consistently,” Crump went on to say. “However, he understands that the one girl has not recanted and that, if the jury were to believe her on the original two charges, he would be facing life imprisonment – potentially – and he also saw that there would be a tremendous emotional impact on the young girl to have to testify before a jury and this is a young girl with problems, and he did not want to exacerbate her situation.”