Melvern man enters plea, found guilty of rape

A Melvern man charged with two counts of rape and one count of indecent liberties with a child entered a no contest plea in Osage County District Court Monday to one count of rape. In a plea agreement, Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones agreed to dismiss the two other charges against Ronald L. Hartpence Jr., 38, Melvern.

Hartpence was arrested Jan. 4 and charged Jan. 8 in a complaint that alleged that he had sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14 years of age on two occasions between Sept. 1, 2011, and Nov. 27, 2013, and on another occasion during the same time period engaged in lewd fondling or touching of another child younger than 14 years of age.

Appearing before Osage County Chief Judge Phillip Fromme, Hartpence confirmed he had submitted a plea of no contest to the rape charge, through his attorney James Campbell.

During the start of Hartpence’s scheduled preliminary hearing on Feb. 19, a young witness’ emotional plea to not testify kept the hearing from proceeding and it was postponed. During a motion hearing in March, Hartpence waived his right to preliminary hearing and arraignment was set for today.

Before accepting Hartpence’s plea and finding him guilty, Fromme explained the charge carried a penalty of imprisonment for life with a mandatory sentence of not less than 25 years and a fine of up to $500,000.

Fromme confirmed with Jones that the victim’s family had been notified of the plea agreement and were in agreement with it. Also present in court was Coffey County Attorney Doug Witteman, who also confirmed that as part of the plea agreement, he would not file any charges against Hartpence in Coffey County for crimes involving the same victim.

Requested by the judge to state the factual basis for the charges against Hartpence, Jones said Hartpence had engaged in sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14 years of age, and the crime had occurred at the defendant’s home in Melvern in November 2013.

Accepting Hartpence’s plea of no contest to count one of the complaint, Fromme said he found Hartpence guilty of the off-grid felony. The judge set 9:30 a.m. June 16 for a sentencing hearing, with Hartpence to undergo a pre-sentence investigation in the meantime.

Before the hearing was completed, Campbell entered a motion for a bond reduction in the case. Since his arrest, Hartpence has been held in the Osage County Jail on $300,000 bond. Campbell requested that Hartpence be released for two weeks under house arrest to get his affairs in order before being sentenced.

“My client is going to go away for 25 years,” Campbell said, requesting that Hartpence be allowed house arrest at his mother’s home in Franklin County, with electronic monitoring to assure he didn’t leave the premises.

Questioned by Fromme, Jones said he did not oppose the request for house arrest for two weeks. Noting no opposition from the state, Fromme said he would allow the request, but require Hartpence to report to the court services officer three times a week and have no contact with the victim or victim’s family.

Fromme admonished Hartpence to “get your business in order” during the two weeks, and report back to the Osage County Jail when the time is up. The judge said Hartpence’s house arrest would begin as soon as the electronic monitoring is arranged.

See related story here.


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