Friday, October 31, 2014

District judge finds Melvern man guilty in child rape case

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 4/21/2014

LYNDON — A 38-year-old Melvern man pled no contest to one count of rape Monday morning in Osage County District Court as part of a plea agreement that would dismiss the other charges against him in a child sexual abuse case.

Judge Phillip M. Fromme, chief judge of the Fourth Judicial District, accepted Ronald L. Hartpence Jr.’s plea and found him guilty of one count of rape. Fromme ordered a presentencing investigation into Hartpence’s criminal history and scheduled the sentencing hearing 9:30 a.m. June 16 in Osage County District Court, 717 Topeka Ave., Lyndon.

LYNDON — A 38-year-old Melvern man pled no contest to one count of rape Monday morning in Osage County District Court as part of a plea agreement that would dismiss the other charges against him in a child sexual abuse case.

Judge Phillip M. Fromme, chief judge of the Fourth Judicial District, accepted Ronald L. Hartpence Jr.’s plea and found him guilty of one count of rape. Fromme ordered a presentencing investigation into Hartpence’s criminal history and scheduled the sentencing hearing 9:30 a.m. June 16 in Osage County District Court, 717 Topeka Ave., Lyndon.

The rape charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

A Jan. 8 complaint filed by Brandon Jones, Osage County attorney, alleges on two separate occasions between Sept. 1, 2011, and Nov. 27, 2013, Hartpence knowingly had unlawful sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14. He faced two counts of rape and one count of aggravated indecent liberties in connection with the incidents.

More specifically, Jones said, if the case went to trial, the prosecution would present evidence that Hartpence had sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14 sometime during the week before Thanksgiving in November 2013 in Hartpence’s home in the Melvern area.

As part of the plea agreement worked out between prosecutor Jones and James Campbell, Hartpence’s defense attorney, the other rape count and the count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child would be dropped.

When asked by Fromme about the range of dates from Sept. 1, 2011, to Nov. 27, 2013, Jones said other incidents of sexual assault against the victim were reported to have occurred during that time. Those incidents were alleged to have taken place in Osage and Coffey counties.

Douglas Witteman, Coffey County attorney, who sat at the prosecution table with Jones in court Monday, told the chief judge that as another stipulation of the plea agreement, the Coffey County prosecutor would not file charges against Hartpence in Coffey County in connection with those incidents. Fromme told Hartpence if sexual assaults against other victims came to light in the future, Hartpence still could be charged in connection with those crimes.

“This plea agreement only applies to this case,” Fromme said.

Hartpence, clad in an orange Osage County Jail jump suit, stood quietly beside his attorney as he listened to Jones recite the allegations against him. Some members of the victim’s family wept as the hearing unfolded.

In addressing the defendant, Fromme said as judge he is not obligated to adhere to the terms of the plea agreement worked out between the prosecutor and defense attorney, and that by entering a no contest plea to the one count of rape Hartpence was giving up his right to a jury trial.

“Do you understand that?” Fromme asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Hartpence said in a clear but soft tone.

Hartpence has remained in Osage County Jail on $300,000 bond since he was arrested Jan. 4 by officers with the Osage County Sheriff’s Office.

Campbell, Hartpence’s defense attorney, said another stipulation of the plea agreement was that Hartpence be allowed out of the jail for 14 days to get his business affairs in order.

“He is going away for a very long time your honor,” Campbell said.

Hartpence would be required to wear a GPS monitoring system and not leave his mother’s residence in Franklin County, Campbell said. Campbell also acknowledged his client realized he was to have no contact with the victim or any member of the victim’s family.

Fromme said he had some reservations about granting Hartpence permission to leave the jail for 14 days, but said he would agree to the stipulation in the plea agreement since it had been approved by the prosecution.

The judge added an additional stipulation that an officer of the court would be calling Hartpence’s mother’s phone three times each week during that 14-day period to talk with Hartpence and his mother to ensure he was at the residence.

“That won’t be a problem, your honor,” Hartpence said.

Avoiding contact with others, Hartpence’s mother broke down on the steps outside the third-floor courtroom and wept before continuing outside the courthouse on a rainy Monday.

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