Gwaltney pleads guilty in child sexual abuse case

Published 7:24 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Carter County man pleaded guilty Tuesday to multiple charges in connection with a child sexual abuse case.

Mark Alan Gwaltney, 51, of Elizabethton, appeared in Criminal Court on Tuesday to enter guilty pleas in the case against him just one day before he was scheduled to stand trial on those charges. Gwaltney entered a guilty plea and was subsequently convicted of two counts of aggravated rape of a child, one count of aggravated sexual battery, five counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, and one count of solicitation of sexual exploitation of a minor – over 50 images.

Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice scheduled a sentencing hearing for Gwaltney on August 21. Under state law, due to some of the charges, Gwaltney was convicted of he must undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation prior to sentencing in his case. Rice also ordered that a specific data report be completed regarding Gwaltney’s prior criminal history.

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Gwaltney’s attorney, Don Spurrell, told Rice he would also need to acquire some medical records regarding his client.

“This man has a very substantial mental health record through the Veteran’s Administration,” Spurrell told the court.

Under state law, a defendant is entitled to have a sentencing hearing within 45 days of conviction, but Gwaltney waived that right in order to allow time for his attorney to obtain the medical records and for the necessary reports to be completed.

For each count of aggravated rape of a child, a Class A felony, Gwaltney faces a prison term of 15-60 years. On the single count of aggravated sexual battery as well as each of the five counts of aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, all Class B felonies, Gwaltney faces 8-30 years. Under state law, Gwaltney would not be eligible for any form of probation or alternative sentencing on those charges and must serve 100 percent of his sentence.

On the count of solicitation of sexual exploitation of a minor, a Class C felony, Gwaltney faces 3-15 years in prison. That conviction is eligible for alternative sentencing and does not come with a mandatory 100 percent service. The court will decide if any form of alternative sentencing will be allowed and what Gwaltney’s release eligibility on this conviction will be during the sentencing hearing.

Gwaltney entered his guilty pleas under an open-ended plea agreement, which means the state did not offer a specific jail sentence as part of the agreement. Instead, the court will decide what the sentence will be on each conviction and whether those sentences will run concurrently or consecutively.

Regardless of what prison sentence Gwaltney receives, he will be required to register as a sex offender with the state for the rest of his life and will be subject to community supervision for life should he be released from prison at any point.

The charges against Gwaltney stem from an investigation by the Carter County Sheriff’s Office into allegations that Gwaltney sexually abused an 8-month-old infant.

As part of the court proceeding on Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Matt Roark described the facts of the case for the court.

In the later part of 2015, Roark said Gwaltney was allowing a family to stay with him while they worked on their home to get it ready to move in. It was during that time that Gwaltney abused the infant, according to Roark.

One day during that time frame, the family’s teenage daughter borrowed Gwaltney’s iPod.

“She found some images of her 8-month-old baby brother being abused by Mr. Gwaltney,” Roark said.

The girl told her mother what she had found and used her cellphone to make a video of the images on Gwaltney’s iPod. The family then turned the girl’s phone over to police as evidence of what was on the iPod.

Later that day, officers located Gwaltney at a relative’s home and arrested him. Officers found the iPod in Gwaltney’s vehicle after he was arrested.

Roark told the court that during the later part of October the infant’s mother had allowed Gwaltney to watch the child for about 30 minutes one day and it is believed that is when the sexual abuse took place.

Following Gwaltney’s arrest, officers obtained a search warrant for Gwaltney’s computer and reported finding 67 images and videos of child pornography.