Sweet granted mental evaluation

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Sentencing of a man convicted last June of child sexual abuse will be delayed, again, until his mental status is evaluated.

By Landmark News Service

INDEPENDENCE — A judge has ruled that Fred Lee Sweet of Galax, convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual battery of a child, is entitled to a mental evaluation.
Sweet was convicted during his trial in June 2010. A jury of eight women and four men deliberated about three hours before finding Sweet, 68, guilty of both charges.
The offenses involved a girl who was five years old at the time.
The jury recommended a sentence of five years in prison and a $20,000 fine on one charge and seven years in prison and a $30,000 fine on the second charge.
The defense motion for a mental evaluation was granted Jan. 5 in Grayson County Circuit Court by Judge Birg Sergent of Pennington Gap of the 13th Judicial Circuit.
Grayson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Doug Vaught argued against the evaluation.
“His lawyers had plenty of opportunities to ask for a mental evaluation during the different dates set for sentencing but they didn’t,” Vaught said. “If the evaluation was so important to their case, how come they didn’t ask for one until now?”
Vaught said he didn’t hear anything about the evaluation until Jan. 3.
One of Sweet’s attorneys, Mike Untiedt, said he didn’t discover the special state statute concerning the evaluation until Jan. 2.
Judge Sergent asked Untiedt and a second defense lawyer, Terry Kilgore, who they wanted to do the evaluation.
It was noted that the evaluation would have to be performed by a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist.
Sergent, who was appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court to hear the case, suggested that the evaluation be performed at Central State Prison in Petersburg.
The name of a qualified social worker was discussed and lawyers for both sides went to an adjoining office to call Rudy Flora at his office in Abingdon.
The lawyers agreed that neither a psychiatrist nor a clinical psychologist was readily available and agreed on Flora.
Vaught said Flora is also a certified sex offender treatment provider.
The evaluation will be performed today, Friday, at Flora’s office.
Vaught said Sweet had been on a medical furlough that prevented him from being placed in the New River Valley Regional Jail in Dublin. He said he felt Sweet should be returned to jail.
Untiedt told Sergent that Sweet was still under doctor’s care.
Sergent said Sweet could remain at home under house arrest until Feb. 21, when he would report to jail by 4 p.m.
Before the ruling on the evaluation was settled, Kilgore and Untiedt asked that the guilty verdict be set aside and a new trial granted because of issues involving the way the jury was charged and the date the offense allegedly occurred, which was April 21, 2007.
They also alluded to an answering machine tape that Vaught had in his possession, but didn’t share with them. Kilgore said if they had the tape, the defense would have handled the case differently.
Vaught pointed out that the jury consisted of 12 members who listened to the evidence presented in the case and rendered their verdict, without a reasonable doubt.
He said each juror was polled about his or her vote and they all affirmed the guilty verdict.
Sergent rejected the motion to set aside the verdict.
Sweet's sentencing originally was set for Aug. 18, 2010, in Grayson Circuit Court, but has been delayed numerous times.
The sentencing was postponed until Sept. 16, 2010, because the trial transcript had not been completed.
The sentencing was postponed again in September because the transcript had not been completed, this time to Oct. 27, 2010.
Sweet, who had been free on a $25,000 bond, was placed in the New River Valley Regional Jail until his sentencing on Oct. 27.
He suffered health problems and had a serious operation. He didn’t return to jail because of his health and he was placed on house arrest and equipped with an electronic monitor.
Vaught argued that the mental evaluation was another way to delay the sentencing.
Kilgore disagreed, noting that he is a member of the Virginia General Assembly and under state statute, he could have had the sentencing postponed because of his legislative responsibilities.
Kilgore said the General Assembly would be in session for 45 days, beginning Wednesday and adjourning in late February.
After looking at available dates, sentencing was set for March 9 at 1:30 p.m.