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Big Island man receives 45 year sentence

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By Tom Wilmoth

A Big Island man will spend the next 45 years in prison for sodomizing six children, some younger than 6 years old.

Gregory D. Burton, 36, was sentenced in Bedford County Circuit Court Tuesday morning for 13 counts of forcible sodomy and one count of aggravated sexual battery. Burton had entered Alford pleas on the charges this summer. An Alford plea, which carries the same effect as a guilty plea, meant Burton didn't admit his guilt, but felt the plea was in his best interest.

He continued to maintain his innocence at Tuesday's sentencing hearing.

Burton said during testimony at the hearing that he denied the charges and told Chief Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney West Nance that statements he made to investigators admitting to some of the crimes were made sarcastically. “Why would you kid around about committing forcible sodomy on six different children?” Nance asked in response.

When asked by Nance if the charges were all a conspiracy against him, Burton shook his head in affirmation.

Nance, in arguing for a life sentence for the convictions, said Burton's continual denial of the charges was denying the impact those actions had on the six different children involved. He said Burton's claims of a conspiracy were “simply making a mockery” of the victims. “What we have is inexcusable crimes,” Nance stated.

Nance said Burton's attempt to avoid responsibility shows who he is. “He does not need to be back in society,” Nance said “There is no reformation that can take place. ...The scars and the ramifications of these crimes will last the remainder of (the victims') lives.”

Burton's attorney, Joseph Sanzone, argued that Burton had not had any problems prior to the charges and had “led an unblemished life except for this.”ee “He has done a lot of things right in his life even if he has done this,” Sanzone stated, arguing that Burton should be given some credit for “having been a good person.” Testimony on Tuesday attempted to point to the charges being a result of a dispute between adults involved in the case.

Circuit Court Judge James Updike said that crimes against children, especially of the nature of Burton's crimes, were “horrific and heinous” and stated that they rob the children of their innocence. Updike added that the sexual offender evaluation marked Burton at high risk to re-offend. “You're not going to get that chance for a long time,” Updike stated, before handing down the 45 year sentence.

The charges stemmed from sexual acts on children — two boys and four girls — ranging in age from under 6 years old to 11 years old. The incidents occurred between January 2002 and July 2007.

The charges came to light more than a year ago after an 11-year-old boy went to a family member to tell about inappropriate contact between Burton and children at a birthday party, according to a summary of the evidence presented by Nance earlier this summer. Nance said the charges were placed as a result of the investigation in which the children told about incidents in which Burton made the children watch pornography and simulate sex acts with him or each other. The charges included acts of fondling and the use of sex toys.

The same boy who came forward last summer also testified at Burton's preliminary hearing. Nance has called the child "a heroic figure" for taking those actions.

Nance has stated previously that many of the incidents occurred at Burton's home in Big Island and often occurred while he was babysitting for the children. He said that Burton would offer to take care of the children for their parents while they went out.