EDITOR’S NOTE: To protect the identify of the child victims in the following story, the mother interviewed will only be identified as “Anne.”
PRINCETON — Three boys. One perpetrator. Years of child sexual abuse.
Disclosures of the crimes occurred in 2015. Parents of the victims then had to face the horrific reality of a family member abusing children, and begin navigating the legal system.
It wasn’t easy, the mother of one victim said. The boys endured Interviews with law enforcement and prosecutors, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, doctor appointments, therapy and more.
But despite the pain of reliving the abuse, the mother said the boys persevered with one goal in mind: justice.
Last week, however, time ran out.
Robert Thomas Mullins, 49, was originally indicted in Mercer County in June 2016 on 27 counts of first-degree sexual assault, first-degree sexual abuse, incest, sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian, attempt to commit a felony and multiple other related crimes.
The multitude of charges were reduced to two felonies in June when Mullins pleaded guilty before Judge Mark Wills to attempt to commit a felony; to wit, sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian or person in a position of trust with a child.
His punishment handed down last Monday was one to three years on both charges, to run concurrently, extended supervision upon release and lifetime registration as a sex offender.
With good time, Mullins could serve his term in a year and a half, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney David Pfeiffer said.
The reason for the plea?
A three-term rule bungle in the prosecuting attorney’s office, officials said.
Anne’s son was a young boy when the sexual abuse by Mullins occurred. She learned of it years later when a West Virginia State Police trooper came to her door.
“One of the boys was my stepson, and he had told his mother and father and they went to the police,” Anne said. “My husband and I had separated then. When my stepson disclosed the abuse he told the state trooper that he needed to check on his brother because he knew it had happened to him and also his cousin.”
At first, Anne said, she did not want to believe it was true. “But sure enough, after forensic interviews, it was, in fact, true. My son had been sexually abused as well as my nephew.”
Anne said that is when the legal process began, including interviews, STD testing and meetings with attorneys and prosecutors.
“When the abuse was disclosed my son was 9 years old,” she said. “Not long after disclosing my son tried to commit suicide by hanging himself.”
Anne said her nephew also had self-destruction issues, “as far as cutting himself and anger issues.”
The investigation into the abuse started in 2015, and Mullins was indicted in 2016. Court records in the case for 2016 and 2017 show a plethora of motions, orders and rescheduled trial dates.
Mullins was released on bond, and subsequently began to ignore court proceedings. A bench warrant was issued for him in May 2018, according to court documents.
“He was not showing up for court. He was on the run,” Anne said. “this lasted around six to seven months.”
During this time, Anne said she was driving with her son one day when he asked, “Why can’t they just go on the mountain and arrest Robert (Mullins). Everybody knows where he’s at?”
Anne said the next day she went to law enforcement and asked about Mullins. He was arrested that night.
“He ignored it and it went away,” Anne said.
Anne said the family had been lulled into a false sense of security with Mullins because of an image he portrayed.
“I was married to his brother and he had lived with us on and off because he was … slow, disabled,” she said. “He played the part that he needed somebody to look after him. It wasn’t until years later that I realized he was, in fact, intelligent. He knew what to say and do to get access to his prey, which was my boys.”
Retired State Police Sgt. M.D. Clemons, formally with the Crimes Against Children Unit, echoed this sentiment.
“He pretends to be simple, but he’s not,” said Clemons, who investigated the 2015-16 case against Mullins.
Clemons described him as a “serial molester.”
Court documents show Mullins was also indicted in Mercer County in February 2009 for first-degree sexual abuse, second-degree sexual assault, incest and sexual abuse by a custodian. Those charges were dismissed a year later in February 2010. The dismissal order cites then-assistant prosecuting attorney — and current prosecuting attorney — George Sitler as representing the state. The order was signed by Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope.
Through the years, Anne said she, her son and the other victims were preparing for trial more than once when “something would always come up.”
Earlier this year, she said they were a few days out from trial when they received a call asking them to come in for a meeting at the prosecuting attorney’s office.
“He (Sitler) came in hanging his head down,” Anne said. “He hardly ever made eye contact … he said unfortunately something had happened … he said he was sorry.
“He said there had never been a case like this in Mercer County. He said if we would take the case to trial Robert’s defense attorney would have it thrown out.”
Questioned about the case last week, Sitler said a defendant has a right to trial within three terms following a grand jury indictment.
“A prior assistant prosecuting attorney continued (the case) without a hearing,” Sitler said. “The three-term rule mandates dismissal.
“It’s a terrible result,” he added, acknowledging the responsibility of his office. “It’s a bad situation. I am sorry we couldn’t do more.”
Anne said she was told if the case went to trial it would be dismissed and Mullins “would walk.” She was advised the plea deal was the better option.
“He (Sitler) told me it was ‘under my watch,’ and ‘I’m not sure how it happened,’ but he was sorry,” Anne said. “Those words echo in my mind. It happened under his watch and he was sorry.”
During Mullins’ sentencing hearing, Anne read a victim’s impact statement. She said Sitler was not in the courtroom, so she went in search of him following the hearing.
“I asked why he was not in the courtroom today, and said, ‘You should have been
there to see the look on my boy’s face and hear what I had to say,’” Anne related. “He said he couldn’t make it, and at that point I read what I had said during the hearing.”
Anne lamented the fact that Mullins could be out on probation in just a year or two.
“What he did will affect my son forever,” she said “He is still in therapy. I put that in my statement. I am not sure how court got delayed, or how the case got passed around like a hot potato, but I would not be silent anymore and our story would be heard. I would try to do everything in my power to get the three-term rule amended when it comes to the heinous crime of sexual abuse.”
Anne is now lobbying for that cause.
She cited words from the Magna Carta, some of which are written on the Mercer County Courthouse walls: “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
“This is what we tell our children, this is what we believe, but this is not always the case,” Anne said. “I was too late to change it for my boys, but I don’t ever want another victim of sexual abuse to go through what my boys did.”
— Contact Samantha Perry at email@example.com