DOBSON — Superior Court Judge A. Moses Massey urged the courtroom Tuesday to remember a cornerstone of democracy – innocent until proven guilty – before accepting a plea in a sexual violence case Tuesday.
Massey acknowledged the occasional challenge with standing by that particular principal, referring to the “long list of horrible allegations” faced by the defendant, Kelly Lee Matthews.
“We – including myself – we tend to see someone has been accused and assume they must be guilty of something,” he stated. However, “in this state and in this nation we have presumption of innocence.”
Matthews, 43, of West Pine Street, Mount Airy, faced 10 counts of first-degree sexual offense, a class B1 felony, and 22 counts of taking indecent liberties with children, which is a class F felony.
Those charges were dismissed Tuesday through an agreement where Matthew pleaded guilty by Alford decision to one count of crime against nature.
An Alford plea indicates the defendant does not admit to actually having committed the crime but finds it in their best interest to plead guilty.
Those convicted of crime against nature, a class I felony, are not required to register as a sex offender.
Matthews was accused of inappropriate sexual contact with two alleged victims from 2001 to 2009.
“The state’s case here is far from being strong or airtight,” said Assistant District Attorney Mark Miller.
Miller explained to the court that a report first emerged to the Mount Airy Police Department in 2012 when one of the alleged victims was interviewed by police for his own alleged inappropriate sexual conduct in an unrelated incident.
“Contact with those individuals has been difficult,” Miller said, describing the contact that did occur as “sporadic as best.”
Both alleged victims, who no longer live in the region, were on board with the plea, Miller said.
Neither were present in the courtroom Tuesday.
“This was an extremely tryable case,” Scott Lowry, defense attorney, stated.
However, “just on the B1 felonies his exposure was to the tune of 20 to 25 years,” Lowry said, and so his client “made the difficult decision to accept the plea agreement.”
The defense attorney told the court that Matthews had no criminal record, had been an exemplary participant on the county’s pretrial release program and was a National Guard veteran who was injured in Iraq.
Massey stated that he thought the plea was reasonable.
“No one is winning anything,” he said. “This is obviously a compromise plea.”
The judge found as mitigating factors Matthews’ 18 years of military service, his criminal record untarnished by even a speeding ticket, his support in the community and never having consumed an impairing substance.
“In spite of the horrible nature of the accusations,” Massey said, emphasizing that word “accusations,” he gave Matthews an active sentence of three to four months, a judgment that, with credit for 295 days served, was more than satisfied, meaning Matthews was free to leave.
“That man who entered the courtroom as a war hero, with no record, leaves the courtroom as a convicted felon,” the judge said.
“Let us not lose sight of it.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.