Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Young victim too scared to testify in child sex case; hearing delayed

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Staff Writer | 2/19/2014

LYNDON — The preliminary hearing for a 38-year-old Melvern man who is facing felony charges in a child sex abuse case was set to begin Wednesday afternoon, but the young victim became too scared to testify.

Both sides were ready to proceed with the preliminary hearing in the case against Ronald L. Hartpence Jr., “but when the State was asked to call our first witness, the victim, she got very scared and was reluctant to take the stand,” Brandon Jones, Osage County attorney, said in an email after the proceeding Wednesday in Osage County District Court.

LYNDON — The preliminary hearing for a 38-year-old Melvern man who is facing felony charges in a child sex abuse case was set to begin Wednesday afternoon, but the young victim became too scared to testify.

Both sides were ready to proceed with the preliminary hearing in the case against Ronald L. Hartpence Jr., “but when the State was asked to call our first witness, the victim, she got very scared and was reluctant to take the stand,” Brandon Jones, Osage County attorney, said in an email after the proceeding Wednesday in Osage County District Court.

The Kansas Attorney General’s Office is aiding Jones in prosecuting the case at his request.

“I did that, and specifically requested a female prosecutor to be assigned to the case, because the female victim thought she would be more comfortable with a female involved in the case,” Jones said. “That’s not uncommon in these types of cases, and completely understandable.”

After taking a break in the proceeding Wednesday, prosecutors were forced to request another continuance when the victim remained unable to take the stand, Jones said.

Magistrate Judge Taylor Wine granted the motion for a continuance over defense attorney James Campbell’s objection but indicated no more continuances would be granted. The preliminary hearing, originally scheduled Feb. 6, previously was derailed by a snowstorm.

Hartpence has been charged with two counts of rape against a child younger than 14 and one count of committing aggravated indecent liberties with a different child, who also was younger than 14, according to court documents. He was arrested Jan. 4 by law enforcement officials with the Osage County Sheriff’s Office. He remains in jail on $300,000 bond.

A Jan. 8 complaint filed by Jones alleges that on two separate occasions between Sept. 1, 2011, and Nov. 27, 2013, Hartpence knowingly had unlawful sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14. During the same time period, the complaint alleges, Hartpence engaged in the lewd fondling or touching of another child younger than 14.

The prosecutors announced in court Wednesday they would be filing a motion to allow the victim to testify by closed circuit TV. The prosecution has until Friday to file the motion regarding closed circuit TV, and Judge Wine scheduled a hearing on that motion for 10 a.m. Feb. 27 at the courthouse, 717 Topeka Ave., Lyndon.

The judge set Hartpence’s new preliminary hearing for 1:30 p.m. March 5.

The two rape charges each carry a sentence of life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years. The penalty for aggravated indecent liberties with a child younger than 14 also is life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

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