published Friday, August 24th, 2012

Marion County man pleads guilty to raping girl, 16

A Whitwell, Tenn., man has pleaded guilty to charges that he raped a 16-year-old girl.

Christopher Conner, 33, of Whitwell, entered a guilty plea last week before Marion County Circuit Court Judge J. Curtis Smith to a charge of aggravated statutory rape, a class D felony, court records show.

Initially charged with statutory rape by an authority figure and sexual battery by an authority figure on July 20, his charges were amended on a defense motion, officials said.

Conner's attorney, Cleveland lawyer Jim Logan, said sentencing is the next step for his client. Marion County court officials said Conner's sentencing hearing is set for 1 p.m. CDT on Oct. 23.

"We have pled guilty and anticipate that the judge will have all the information needed to make an informed sentencing," Logan said Thursday. "Mr. Conner is appreciative of the support of his family and friends during this time that he acknowledges he made a terrible mistake in judgment and committed a crime."

Marion Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett said Conner will be facing a two- to four-year sentence. Since Conner has no known criminal history, he could be eligible for probation, the sheriff said.

"He'll have to be listed on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry for 10 years," he said. "After 10 years, he can petition the court to come off of it."

Conner's charges stem from an investigation that began July 18 when the teen reported she "had been raped in the parking lot" at Whitwell High School. Additional investigation and surveillance video led authorities to believe the victim wasn't telling the whole story, Detective Beth Schindel said.

After a follow-up interview, the victim said the incident happened at Conner's Whitwell home, according to Schindel.

The detective was out sick on Thursday and could not be reached for comment on the plea.

Burnett said he was proud of investigators' work on the case.

"Beth did a good job on this case and got it resolved rather quickly," he said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his Facebook posts at www.facebook.com/benbenton1 or follow him at twitter.com/BenBenton on Twitter.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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