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Moneta man sentenced for sexual assault of girl

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By Tom Wilmoth

    A 19-year-old Moneta man, who has maintained his innocence since being arrested, will spend two years in prison for having sexual contact with a minor girl under the age of 13 years old.
    But the attorney for Howard Jamar Witcher stated during a sentencing hearing Tuesday that he plans to appeal the conviction.
    In that hearing, Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James Updike sentenced Witcher to 10 years in prison, with eight of those years suspended. Witcher, who will turn 20 years old next month, will have to register as a sex offender and, upon release, will have five years of supervised probation. He was also ordered to not have any contact with minors.
    Witcher was convicted at a bench trial in June on charges of taking indecent liberties with a minor and aggravated sexual battery.

He had entered not guilty pleas in the case. Sentencing guidelines on the convictions ranged from two years of active jail time to six years.
    Judge Updike ordered Witcher to report for incarceration on Jan. 30, giving him time to file his appeal. He has up to 21 days to file the appeal with the Court of Appeals in Richmond. He remains out on bond.
    The victim, 12 years old at the time the incident occurred, testified at trial that she became concerned she might be pregnant after the sexual contact between her and Witcher. She initially told an older sister, asking her how she would know if she was pregnant and they then went to the girl’s mother who contacted authorities.
    The charges stem from an incident that occurred between Feb. and June, 2012.
    Witcher’s father testified at sentencing that he believed his son was innocent, that his son was hard-working and that the plan for Witcher was that he would join the family landscaping business.
    According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz, the presentencing report and sex offender evaluation stated that Witcher was of low cognitive functioning but not mentally disabled. He was not deemed to have an anti-social disorder but demonstrated traits of this behavior. Krantz said the report stated Witcher has a low risk of reoffending.
    The victim, from Roanoke, was a regular visitor to the residence where Witcher lived. A 9-year-old family member of the victim testified during the trial that he had been present when one of the incidents occurred.
    Witnesses for Witcher maintained he wasn’t in the area when the incidents allegedly occurred, but on cross examination they couldn’t account for where he was all of the time.
    Krantz argued at sentencing that while it may be difficult for Witcher to live with the consequences of his conviction,  the consequences to the victim and the lasting effects on her must also be considered.