Witness’ inability to testify postpones rape and indecent liberties hearing

A young witness’ emotional plea to not testify postponed Wednesday’s preliminary hearing for a Melvern man charged with rape and indecent liberties in Osage County District Court.

Ronald L. Hartpence Jr., 38, Melvern, was arrested Jan. 4 and charged Jan. 8 with two counts of rape and one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child.

During yesterday’s preliminary hearing, which had been postponed from Feb. 6 due to a winter storm, Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones called the prosecution’s first witness, identified in court records as a child younger than 14 years old. Although sequestered in the jury room, the witness could be heard in the courtroom pleading with family members and the prosecutor to not make her testify.

Osage County Magistrate Judge Taylor Wine recessed the court while Jones and Assistant Attorney General Kristiane Bryant, who is assisting the prosecution, spoke with the witness and family members.

Wine then called for a conference in his chambers with Jones and Hartpence’s attorney James Campbell. Afterward, Jones told the judge that he was requesting a continuance in the case to have time to file a motion to allow the witness testify via closed-circuit television.

“She’s, quite frankly, scared to come forward,” Jones said. He said prosecutors had thought the girl would be able to testify, but “she’s overwhelmed by the open court.”

Campbell offered a formal objection to the continuance, saying, “My client does have a right to proceed.”

In Hartpence’s first appearance before the court in January, his co-counsel Shannon Rush had noted that Hartpence was in custody in the Osage County Jail on $300,000 bond, and requested the preliminary hearing be held as soon as possible.

Wine denied Campbell’s objection, citing the seriousness of the charges, and set 10 a.m. Feb. 27 to hear Jones’ motion to allow the closed circuit television testimony, and set 1:30 p.m. March 5 to continue the preliminary hearing.

The complaint filed against Hartpence alleges that on two occasions between Sept. 1, 2011, and Nov. 27, 2013, he had sexual intercourse with a child under 14 years of age, and on another occasion during the same time period engaged in lewd fondling or touching of another child under 14 years of age. All three counts are off-grid person felonies, and each carry a possible penalty of imprisonment for life with a mandatory sentence of not less than 25 years and a fine of up to $500,000.

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