HAZARD – A Perry County man accused of subjecting a 9-year-old girl to sexual contact pleaded guilty to an amended charge one day after the trial had started.
Timothy Fugate, 38, was originally indicted in June 2011 on one count of first-degree sexual abuse, a Class C felony that could have brought up to 10 years in jail, after the juvenile told police that Fugate inappropriately touched her in the bedroom of a mobile home on Little Grapevine Creek in March 2011.
Fugate has maintained his innocence, and was released from the Kentucky River Regional Jail on home incarceration in December 2012 to await his trial, which began Monday morning with jury selection. On Tuesday afternoon, however, he entered an Alford plea to an amended charge of sexual misconduct, a Class A misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of 12 months and credit for time served, which exceeded 12 months. An Alford plea means Fugate maintains his innocence, but acknowledges the evidence in the case against him strongly indicates the probability of a guilty verdict.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Mullins explained to the court after Fugate entered into the plea that the reason for the plea change was because the prosecution did not think they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what Fugate was alleged to have done fell under the legal definition of sexual abuse.
Mullins explained there were two hurdles the Commonwealth would have to overcome to get a conviction in this case, the legal definition of “sexual parts,” and proving what was done was for the purposeful sexual gratification of either the defendant or the victim.
“Based on that, we think the charge should be what it is now,” Mullins concluded.
Defense attorney Gerald Teaster agreed with Mullins that the charge should be amended to sexual misconduct, citing his reasoning as the lesser charge would bring less potential punishment than the original charge if his client were to be found guilty.
“My client simply thinks it’s in his best interest because of the risks of litigation,” Teaster explained.
Before court was adjourned, Judge William Engle opened the floor to other comments from the audience about the amended charge. The victim’s grandmother stood and spoke of her concern for the lack of restrictions on Fugate after he leaves the court.
“The next child might not live to tell about it,” she said. “A dog gets put down for biting a child, but when a man or woman does it they can walk away.”
Before dismissing, Judge Engle spoke directly to the jury, making a point to reassure them they were not there in vain.
“We cannot resolve cases unless you all are here and ready and willing to resolve those cases,” he said.