Guilty Plea

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2009

Defendant chooses plea over jury trial

By Billy Davis

A defendant who was facing a felony charge of fondling a pre-teen girl pleaded guilty Monday as jurors were being chosen.

A pool of about 90 potential jurors had assembled at the county courthouse in Batesville for the scheduled trial of Charles Riley Jr., 44.

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Riley was facing a maximum 15-year sentence if convicted of fondling a 12-year-old girl at his home in July 2007.

He was represented by public defender David Walker.

Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale was presenting the state’s case against Riley.

Court documents allege Riley groped the girl after she went into his home on Seven Road to look for another child. He grabbed her from behind until she struggled to break free.

“When I ran he went outside and he was laughing,” the girl told a Department of Human Services investigator. “He said, ‘You know I was just playing. You better not tell nobody.’”

In an interview with a Panola sheriff’s investigator, Barry Thompson, Riley said he “might have” touched the girl inappropriately by mistake.

Riley’s court papers show he pleaded guilty Monday with the understanding that he would serve two years in prison before being released for 13 years of post-release supervision. The plea agreement also specifies that he have no contact with the child.

“We conferred with the family, and the family was in agreement with the plea offer,” Hale said.

Hale had secured separate statements from two women, now ages 27 and 19, who claimed that Riley had groped them when they were teenagers.

Walker had moved to suppress the women’s statements from the pending trial, but Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure ruled that the statements would be allowed as evidence.

“The judge’s ruling helped sway the defendant,” said Hale. “That would have convicted him.”

Hale credited Thompson, the sheriff’s investigator, for his work on the case.