Chester Man Pleads Guilty to Sex Offenses
Geauga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Forrest W. Burt found Chester Township resident Walter Harrison guilty of three sex-related offenses during a bench trial Monday — one of them involving his step-granddaughter.
The judge revoked Harrison’s bond and sent him to the Geauga County Safety Center until his sentencing Sept. 18.
At the end of the bench trial, a Geauga County Sheriff’s Off-ice deputy slapped handcuffs on Harrison, the metallic noises ringing in the silent courtroom.
Harrison pleaded guilty to pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor, posses-sing criminal tools and attempted gross sexual imposition.
Burt found him guilty as charged during the trial, which lacked a traditional jury.
The gross sexual imposition charge involved Harrison’s step-granddaughter, according to information released from the Geauga County Victim/Witness Assistance Program.
In front of an audience of two dozen family members, Burt read the charges to Harrison, who responded “Yes, your honor,” to each of them.
“Do you have the ability to speak, read and write English?” the judge asked at one point, adding, by pleading “guilty,” Harrison waived his right to a jury trial and his right to change or modify his story.
He told the judge he was on several medications for sleep disorders, depression and shoulder surgery.
Last fall, Harrison, of 8546 Prescott Drive, allegedly sought out illegal child pornography on the Internet, according to a source who wished to remain anonymous.
Officials from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification (BCI&I) monitored Harrison’s activities online through various means such as IP (Inter-net Protocol) tracing.
After an undercover agent from BCI tracked him, law enforcement received a search warrant and obtained his computers.
After the computers were seized, Harrison — a Vietnam veteran — reportedly told police a condition of post-traumatic stress syndrome was the cause of his behaviors.
A month later, as law enforcement were searching his computer hard drives, they found a locally made video of child pornography on a USB flash drive.
On that 30-second video, officials found Harrison engaging in inappropriate contact with a 4-year-old girl, the source said.
At that point, police obtained a warrant from Chardon Municipal Court Judge Terri Stupica to arrest Harrison and book him into the Geauga County Safety Center.
Nearly two weeks later, Chardon Municipal Court bound the case over to the Geauga County Common Pleas Court.
Last December, a grand jury indicted him on eight counts of sexual misconduct involving minors.
At that time, jurors indicted him on charges that he illegally photographed a minor, viewed and/or possessed material of a child in a state of nudity and possessed criminal tools.
The four other counts involved two cases of pandering sexually oriented material involving a minor and two cases of pandering obscenity involving a minor, the court document said, which had the gross sexual imposition as the eighth count.
Harrison pleaded not guilty at his Dec. 21 arraignment in front of Burt.
Bond was set at $500,000 and he was held in the Geauga County Safety Center.
At a January hearing, the bond was lowered to $100,000, but it contained conditions that he avoid contacting the victim and avoid using computers and smartphones, according to the court docket.
After the hearing, Harrison posted the mandatory 10 percent of his bond and was released on Jan. 24.
On Monday, after Burt read the charges and conviction, Harrison was silent.
The pandering charge, a second-degree felony, carries a sentence of between two and eight years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine.
Additionally, he will have to register every six months for the next 25 years as a Tier II sexual offender, which means he can reside no closer than 1,000 feet away from a school or childcare facility.
The possession of criminal tools charge, a fifth-degree felony, carries a sentence of between 12 months in prison and up to a $2,500 fine. The first two charges both include five-year, post-release control stipulations.
The charge involving attempted gross sexual imposition, a third-degree felony, carries a sentence of between six and 18 months in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
Like the pandering charge, the imposition charge requires him to register as a sex offender for the next 25 years.
Unlike normal conditions, where “sentences can be added, one to another,” Burt said Harrison’s charges can be concurrent, meaning the offender can serve each period of incarceration simultaneously instead of consecutively.
Additionally, the court will conduct a pre-sentence investigation prior to his September sentencing in Burt’s court-room.
His attorney, Edward Brice of Chardon, will submit pre-sentence investigation reports to the court.
Assistant Geauga County prosecutors Mark Bartolotta and Nick Burling represented the state during the trial, which started two hours late.
After the deputy led Harrison away from the courtroom, several family members and relatives involved with the case spoke.
“I’m happy it’s over,” said Aurora resident Heather Godale, accompanied by her husband, Mike Markulis. “It was quickly and succinctly done.”
Markulis said he was glad Harrison pleaded guilty and will not be able to change his story as a result of the guilty pleas.
“We’re glad he’s in jail,” Godale said. “If there are more victims out there, they can get hold of the prosecutor’s office and go from there.”
Anyone with further information about this case can contact the Geauga County Prosecutor’s Office Victim and Witness Assistance Program at 440-279-2115.
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