By Michael R. Moser
A defendant getting ready to enter a plea in a year-old child abuse case expressed concerns that the action would affect his ability to travel outside the country on mission trips. No one could say how his plea would affect his ability to travel, but in the end, he agreed that entering the "best interest" plea would be his best option.
Kelly William Demoe, 45, whose last known address was listed on Oakcrest Dr., was facing trial on a charge of aggravated child abuse, that carries a 15 to 20-year prison sentence at 100 percent with fine not to exceed $50,000.
In entering his plea, Demoe agreed with his attorney that, while not admitting guilt, there was a good chance that a jury could find him guilty of the class A felony. He pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated child abuse, and received a 14-year prison sentence to be served at 30 percent.
Despite his "best interest" plea, the judgment will be recorded as a guilty plea.
"Assistant District Attorney Caroline Knight and myself are pleased with the outcome in that it spares the victim and family from reliving these events in a trial," Deputy District Attorney Gary McKenzie said. "We are also pleased that as part of the plea agreement, the defendant will be waving his right to appeal his sentence."
The incident took place April 2, 2011, when the toddler was left in the care of Demoe by its mother, described as a girlfriend of the defendant at the time.
The mother returned home to find the child suffering from injuries. She took the child to Cumberland Medical Center's emergency room and the child was later transferred to East Tennessee Children's Hospital in Knoxville where the child underwent intensive and specialized care.
In his first statement to Sheriff's Investigator John Haynes, Demoe said the child was hurt when it fell down some steps outside the mobile home where the incident took place. Doctors, however, found the child with injuries that were inconsistent with that type of mishap.
Upon being questioned again, Demoe told investigators that he became upset when the child started crying and responded by "treating it in a certain way."
Demoe was represented by Knoxville attorney John Burns.
As Judge David Patterson was reviewing Demoe's rights and what a plea would mean to him in the case, Demoe stopped the proceedings for a moment and asked if entering the plea would prevent him from doing that "mission" work that he has been involved in for the past eight years.
"I cannot answer that," Patterson told the defendant, adding that any restrictions on travel would have to be worked out once he is paroled.
"It is very unlikely that an offender convicted of this crime will be granted parole," McKenzie said in a statement after Friday's hearing. "With that said, I look forward to voicing my opposition to any possible grant of parole in the years to come."
McKenzie went on to praise the work of Haynes in investigating the case, and Sheriff Butch Burgess for the creation of the Special Investigation Unit that handles cases of this nature.
"These types of cases are among the hardest to investigate and prosecute, usually due to the lack of evidence," said McKenzie. "The creation of the SIU department has allowed for higher conviction and prosecution rates of child abuse in this county."