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Kenneth Austin Epperly, who entered an Alford plea in October to two counts of sexual battery, was sentenced Thursday to 60 days in jail.
Kenneth Austin Epperly
Thursday, March 21, 2013
CHRISTIANSBURG — A former gymnastics center owner was sentenced Thursday to 60 days in jail on sexual misconduct charges involving two minors.
Kenneth Austin Epperly , 64, entered an Alford plea in October in Montgomery County Circuit Court to two counts of sexual battery — a Class 1 misdemeanor — related to incidents with children at New River Valley Gymnastics/Epperly Elite Training Center , a Christiansburg business that was owned and operated by the Epperly family.
Radford Circuit Court Judge Joey Showalter , who was brought in to preside over the case, said Epperly will also be required to register as a sex offender and will have no unsupervised contact with minors outside of his immediate family.
Epperly in October was facing two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of indecent liberties. County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Dean Manor dropped the indecent liberties charge and said the amendments to the two counts of aggravated sexual battery came after speaking with the victims’ parents and considering how a trial would force the two female victims — who are both younger than 13 — to relive the incidents.
According to Manor’s summary of the evidence Thursday, a 5-year-old girl reported that at least once between July 16, 2010, and Aug. 22, 2010, while she was a student at the gymnastics center, Epperly touched her inappropriately while the two were alone in his office bathroom.
A 10-year-old girl said that on March 11, 2011, while she was attending an event at the center, Epperly invited her into his office bathroom and touched her inappropriately, according to Manor.
The mother of one of the girls testified Thursday that her child “lost her innocence” after the incident. Her daughter has now had trouble sleeping, wets the bed and has hesitated to participate in gymnastics again.
The gymnastics center has since closed, its phone is disconnected and its website is no longer online.
After Epperly’s plea in October, his attorney, Jimmy Turk, said that there was never any physical evidence. Turk said his client made one “stupid” comment to a woman connected with the case.
“One lady called him and recorded the conversation,” Turk said in October. “After telling her 109 times that he did nothing wrong, for some stupid reason, for a very brief period of time, he went along with what she was saying and admitted to doing something with the children that visited, without naming names and in very general terms.”
Turk said again Thursday that the recorded comment was the only reason his client entered an Alford plea, agreeing that sufficient evidence exists to find him guilty but maintaining his innocence.
Manor read part of the call transcript, in which the unnamed woman asked Epperly if he inappropriately touched the children. He responded, “carelessly,” according to Manor. The woman later told Epperly that his hands could not have accidentally fallen into the child’s pants, to which he responded, “no,” according to the transcript. She then asked him, “So that was inappropriate?” And Epperly said, “Inappropriate, yes,” according to Manor.
Epperly also told the woman that he was planning on getting therapy, Manor said.
Epperly, who is now retired and said he is living in Roanoke, testified that he has never inappropriately touched children and cooperated fully with the police investigation. He said he briefly agreed with what the woman was saying during the recorded phone conversation because she was a longtime friend and customer. The phone conversation had lasted about 45 minutes, and after telling her about 110 times that he hadn’t done anything inappropriate, he conceded to appease her, he testified.
“I did not work directly with the children,” Epperly said. “I don’t know the children named in this case; they are unknown to me.”
Epperly was scheduled to be sentenced in February, but Turk requested a continuance so that Dr. Keith Fender at Blue Ridge Counseling could review Epperly’s case. Turk did not mention Blue Ridge Counseling during Thursday’s sentencing hearing or present any psychological evidence.
“This is one of the most difficult cases I’ve ever had in my 28 years of experience,” Turk said in October. “I would bet my life on the fact that I represent a truly innocent person.”
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