WISE — Former Big Stone Gap police officer Oliver Winston Mullins was convicted of various sexual offenses Friday in Wise County Circuit Court.
As part of a plea agreement, Mullins, 32, of Pound, will serve 10 years in the penitentiary, followed by 20 years supervised probation and 10 years unsupervised probation. He will also have to register as a convicted sex offender. He has an additional sentence of 20 years in prison that is suspended.
Judge Larry B. Kirksey, filling in for Judge Chadwick Dotson, heard the plea. Mullins pleaded to aggravated sexual battery and indecent liberties with a child under the age of 15.
During previous testimony, Mullins acknowledged that he had eight convictions for sexual battery while a juvenile and that he frequented websites promoting sexual contact between adults and children.
Mullins faced the judge with his wrists and ankles shackled, wearing a red cotton shirt and red sweatpants. The cavernous courtroom was empty except for those involved in the proceedings and seven people in the audience — all of whom, other than Mullins’ mother, were there for professional reasons.
Mullins said nothing beyond simple responses to the judge’s questions, including entering an Alford plea, which means the defendant acknowledges enough evidence for conviction but does not admit to having committed the crimes.
The crimes came to light after the school-aged girl told a teacher about them in early 2016. The crimes did not involve Mullins’ work as a police officer.
Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Josh Newberry said the victim has clarified and changed her statements at various times. Prosecutors were concerned that significant pressure had been put on the victim to change her story, including the victim recanting at one point and then denying the recantation and explaining why she recanted.
Stuart Collins, an attorney representing Mullins, said, “There were multiple inconsistencies in the victim’s statements; this compelled both sides to reach an agreement.”
Mullins’ other attorney, Daniel Fast, added, “Ask a kid 10 different times and you will get 10 different stories.”
The child was likely to be on the witness stand, facing the man who assaulted her for at least four days, according to attorneys on both sides of the case. Much of this time would have involved intense questioning from defense attorneys.
Commonwealth Attorney Chuck Slemp commented: “Today’s plea serves to further protect this child from the abuse of Mr. Mullins. A jury trial would have been particularly traumatic for the victim in this case. Younger victims sometimes have difficulty testifying in front of a jury. Forcing this juvenile victim to endure a jury trial, testifying about these types of crimes, serves only to revictimize the child.”
Slemp added: “Sexual offenses against children are among the most vile and disgusting crimes that we see in court. My office will continue to aggressively prosecute these cases and seek harsh punishment for anyone who would do harm to a child.”
Slemp thanked Virginia State Police, the county Department of Social Services and the Southwest Virginia Children’s Advocacy Center for their work on the case.
Many have commented on social media that they thought Mullins was getting special treatment because he is a former police officer. Responding to these concerns, Slemp said, “The Commonwealth gives no special treatment to anyone, and the only considerations in entering into the plea was the strength of the case, the clarity of the facts we would have presented at trial, and protecting the victim from having to endure the trauma of cross examination.”
“I understand there’s a national pre-conceived notion that police officers get special treatment, but that was not the case here,” said Collins, who added “Both sides worked very diligently to come to an agreement.”
In explaining why the defendant agreed to a plea deal, Fast said, “Being accused of sex crimes today is like being accused of being a witch in Salem, Mass.” He was referring to colonial-era tests in which someone who survived a test was deemed a witch and later killed.
Collins added, “Plea agreements allow the defendant some control over an uncontrollable situation.”
Mullins faced a maximum of four life sentences and 680 years in prison if convicted on all 48 counts. The counts all involved the same victim with the incidents taking place between March 2014 and April 2016. Mullins has been held without bond since being arrested in June 2016 — time which will be credit to his sentence.
The case relied on statements from the victim. There was very little physical evidence supporting the charges other than the defendant possessing pornography on electronic devices consistent with the charges. One of the charges was that the defendant had shown the young victim pornographic images.