A tearful Blake Lee Walton admitted Monday to two sexual encounters with his 12-year-old niece.
"It all started with looking at pornography on the Internet—I was stupid—I got my niece involved and she was curious," Walton, a 47-year-old Blaine County man, said at a change of plea hearing in Blaine County 5th District Court.
Walton broke down into tears at that point and was unable to continue for several minutes.
"I know it's hard, but it's something we have to do," Judge Robert J. Elgee told the defendant.
Ultimately, Walton admitted to two sexual encounters with his niece and pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd conduct with a minor child under 16, a crime punishable in Idaho by up to life in prison. Neither admission involved sexual intercourse. In one count Walton, admitted to genital to genital contact when "I was on the bed and she was on top of me." In the other, Walton said he coerced the girl into oral sex.
The exact dates are uncertain, but the complaint against Walton alleges that the sex acts occurred between Sept. 1, 2007 and Dec. 1, 2007. Blaine County court records state that Walton was living with the girl's family and that the sexual encounters occurred at either The Meadows trailer park south of Ketchum or later in Picabo after the family moved there.
Walton has remained incarcerated in Blaine County Jail on a $100,000 bond since his arrest on May 20.
In accord with a plea agreement with the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Walton faces a sentence of 25 years in prison, with 15 years to be served before he is eligible for parole.
"I've indicated to you, Mr. Walton, that I will probably follow this," Elgee said. "That actual sentence can be more severe than what's recommended, or less severe than what's recommended, but one way or another you cannot change your plea."
Sentencing was scheduled for 9 a.m. on Dec. 29.
Even Walton's public defender, Hailey attorney Keith Roark, had agreed to the sentence. Roark, however, was not in court Monday and was represented by Roark Law Firm attorney Kevin Cassidy.
In exchange for Walton's guilty plea, Cassidy explained, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Idaho will not pursue federal child pornography charges against the defendant. Possession of child pornography is punishable by up to 40 years in prison and has a mandatory minimum sentence requirement of five years incarceration.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback told the court that a federal investigation had found evidence of child pornography on Walton's laptop computer.
"The federal government could have pursued different charges, but will choose not to," Fredback said.
Even Walton acknowledged that he pleaded guilty to the lewd conduct charges and accepted the sentencing agreement to avoid federal prosecution.
Elgee painstakingly questioned Walton about the charges and his plea after the defendant told him that he suffers from a learning disability that sometimes makes it difficult for him to understand or remember things he has read.
Walton acknowledged that he confessed to the crimes when questioned by Blaine County Sheriff's investigators following his arrest. Elgee advised Walton that he could challenge the confessions, particularly since he made them without an attorney present and if they were not made voluntarily.
"Yeah, that's what they did, they squeezed it out of me," Walton said. Nonetheless, Walton said he still wanted to plead guilty because "I'm guilty anyway. I want to go forward anyway."
Walton also said he could produce no witnesses to establish his innocence.
He further told the judge that he is satisfied with the representation of his attorney.
He said that he is a 1979 Blackfoot High School graduate. Also, he told the judge that he takes medication for depression and high blood pressure.
Elgee asked the defendant if the medication, particularly the medicine for depression, effects his ability to think or reason.
"The medication helps me from doing something stupid, like suicidal or something," Walton said.