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Man receives 23 years for sex abuse

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Owens tried to change his guilty plea

By Thomas Barr

 BROOKS - A 76-year-old man could serve the next 23 years in prison for the sexual abuse of several youngsters dating back to 1959.

Gerald Owens had already entered a guilty plea on four of six counts and was set for final sentencing on Thursday.

However, before Circuit Judge Rodney Burress could complete the formal proceedings, Owens declared that he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial.

On Feb. 24, 2011, Owens entered an Alford plea on three counts of immoral or indecent practices and a guilty plea to sexual abuse.

Attorney John Wooldridge said during the sex offender interview, his client claimed that he did not commit the offenses and that he never did anything to the victims.

With those comments, Wooldridge said it would be difficult to move forward with the final sentencing.

Owens said he never touched the victims. He told Burress that he wanted to go to trial because he wasn’t guilty.

Before reaching a decision, Owens was questioned by his attorney, as well as prosecutor Michael Mann and Burress.

“I didn’t have time” to talk to his attorney, claimed Owens. “I wasn’t satisfied with the guilty plea.”

He said it was his understanding that a guilty plea would allow him to be released from custody, where he has spent the past 500 days. But he admitted that no one made that promise.

Owens said that he understood that going to trial could result in him serving more years than the plea agreement offered.

The court played the tape of the plea agreement where Owens acknowledged that he understood and agreed to the deal offered. Due to the open plea, Burress would be responsible for setting the penalty.

Burress overruled the motion to vacate the guilty plea.

Three of Owens’ victims, including one whose case has yet to be settled, took the witness stand.

One recalled her incident as being when she was 11 years old. Owens rode the victim on a motorcycle along Brooks Hill Road. He got to a certain point and stopped the cycle and said he had to go to the bathroom.

At that point, he put his arms around the girl from behind and started to rub her breast. On the ride home, he put his hands between her legs. Finally, he grabbed her hand and placed it on his penis.

None of the events involved anything where the skin was touched.

That event occurred back in 1962.

Another victim said she was swimming as an eight-year-old when Owens came up and fondled her breasts in the water. She also witnessed the abuse of two other victims.

She remembered him placing his fingers into body parts.

“What he did do was painful,” she said.

Eventually, the abuse stopped and the victim said she kept her distance from the suspect.

She came forward a couple of years ago as a way to protect others. She had hoped he had stopped those actions but Owens hadn’t.

In terms of punishment, she was looking for 20 years and a day - at least.

“The community would be in danger if he is released,” she said.

Another person said that Owens performed oral sex acts on him. If he allowed the sex acts to occur, he would be allowed to ride the mini-bike, said the victim, who was 7 or 8 years old at the time.

He never told anyone of the incidents and then stayed away from the defendant.

He also came forward in hopes of stopping future incidents.

But Mary Owens said she never knew her husband of doing anything wrong. He acknowledged hearing rumors and she agreed that she was involved in a harassment charge against a relative. That charge was later dropped.

Roy Allen said he knew Owens for years and never knew of any problems with the court system.

In his closing argument, Wooldridge said the offenses date back for decades. There had been many years since the allegations and there were no injuries suffered.

He admitted his client did have a sodomy conviction in 1988, where he received a five-year sentence. There was also a 2009 incident with two young boys.

Wooldridge felt that probation was possible and that his client should receive the least amount of penalty in prison.

Mann had a different outlook of the situation.

He felt that probation would greatly reduce the seriousness of the crime. Owens did nothing to said he directly took responsibility for the incident.

Burress sentenced Owens to three terms of five years and another term of eight years. All would be served consecutively for a total of 23 years.

Mann said he was pleased with the verdict. Wooldridge said his client should be eligible for probation within four or five years.

Due to the timing of the incident, sexual offender treatment would not be required and they Owens would not be required to sign up on the sex offender registry.

Mann said he was pleased with the judge’s verdict and felt that Owens had indeed committed those crimes.