MANSFIELD — A former member of the 1486th Transportation Co. could get up to 17 years in prison after admitting he had a sexual relationship with a teenage girl.
Keith Ward, 41, of 882 N. Stewart Road, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of child endangering and one count of importuning. The offenses occurred for two years, starting when the victim was 14.
Child endangering is a second-degree felony, while importuning is a fifth-degree felony.
Richland County Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese detailed the charges during Monday’s hearing.
“The defendant was soliciting the victim to have a sexual relationship with him. He touched her on her breasts and exposed himself to her,” the judge said. “He was engaging in video chats with her. He solicited her to be pictured nude. Those nude photos were found on his computer.”
Ward was deployed to Afghanistan with the Ohio Army National Guard when the allegations surfaced, and he was sent home, Assistant Prosecutor Bambi Couch Page said.
Defense attorney Robert Whitney said Ward spent a combined 22 years in the military between active and reserve duty. He said Ward served two deployments, the first in Iraq.
Whitney said Ward has since retired from the military.
In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dismissed one count of attempted sexual battery, one count of importuning, two counts of pandering sexually oriented matter, two counts of endangering children and four misdemeanor counts of sexual imposition. Ward, who stood with his hands clasped behind his back for most of the hearing, will be sentenced April 24.
“We were unable to reach an agreement as to what the sentencing should be, so the state returned to its original position of 10 years,” Couch Page said.
There is a presumption of prison time in the case. Ward, who remains free on bond, also will be declared a Tier II sex offender, meaning he will have to register where he lives every six months for 25 years.
Whitney requested a pre-sentence investigation.
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