Friday, February 22, 2013
Epperly sentencing is delayed
The gymnastics center owner's lawyer asked for a review by a psychological counselor.
CHRISTIANSBURG — The sentencing for a former gymnastics center owner, who in October was convicted of sexual misconduct involving two minors, was continued Thursday.
Kenneth Austin Epperly, 64, entered an Alford plea last year 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.
Epperly's lawyer, Jimmy Turk, requested a continuance Thursday so that Dr. Keith Fender at Blue Ridge Counseling could review Epperly's case.
The motion raised an objection from Montgomery County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Dean Manor, who said the case involves criminal issues, not psychological ones.
Epperly has always denied any inappropriate contact with the two young girls, which is why, Turk said, that Epperly entered an Alford plea — agreeing sufficient evidence existed to find him guilty but maintaining his innocence.
Manor questioned the reasoning for the continuance Thursday, stating that if Epperly is denying any wrongdoing, he shouldn't require a psychological evaluation.
After the hearing, Turk said that a continuance will give him a chance to "see whether there might be any type of mitigation that I might present."
"We go before the judge for sentencing, and I just think the judge needs any and all information that might be helpful for him in deciding what type of punishment [Epperly] should receive," Turk said. "Mitigation evidence is something that should be and is always considered."
Blue Ridge Counseling is described on its website as "a private practice outpatient emotional wellness clinic" located in Radford.
County Commonwealth's Attorney Mary Pettitt wrote in an email after the hearing that it seems like seeking a psychological evaluation is "either to argue that [Epperly] is not guilty when the Court has already found him guilty or to delay sentencing."
"It cannot reasonably be a request to enroll in sex offender treatment, as that would require an acknowledgement by Epperly that he has such a problem," Pettitt wrote.
Radford Circuit Court Judge Joey Showalter, who was brought in to preside over the case, agreed to continue the sentencing until March 21.
Epperly in October was facing two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of indecent liberties. 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.
Details of the sexual misconduct were not discussed during Epperly's plea hearing in October or during Thursday's proceedings. According to arrest warrants filed in July 2011, Epperly was initially accused of exposing his genitals to two girls younger than 6 at the training center and was then charged with two counts of taking indecent liberties with a child.
A search warrant affidavit also filed in 2011 stated that a woman called Christiansburg police on July 5, 2011, and said her daughter, who attended New River Valley Gymnastics, told her that Epperly "had touched her between her legs in his office and in the bathroom."
The gymnastics center has since closed, its phone is disconnected and its website is no longer online.
After Epperly's plea in October, 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."
Epperly faces up to 12 months in jail on each charge of sexual battery. He will remain out on a $100,000 bond, originally granted to him at a 2011 Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court hearing.
"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."