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Former firefighter convicted of molesting girl

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An Amherst County jury on Wednesday recommended a 12-year sentence for a now-retired Lynchburg firefighter found guilty of molesting a girl who was at his home for a sleepover. Joe Eddie Bennett, 50, of Madison Heights, was convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual battery and two counts of taking indecent liberties with a child, said Cary Payne, Amherst County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Circuit Judge Michael Gamble ordered a pre-sentencing report be conducted and set sentencing for July 11.

Bennett remains free on bond. He had been on leave from his job as a Lynchburg firefighter. He now is retired from the department, said Lynchburg fire Chief Steven B. “Brad” Ferguson.

The girl testified, often through tears, that Bennett behaved improperly toward her. The offenses occurred between 2009 and 2011, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Maddox.

She smiled as Maddox asked her about her life. But she immediately began to cry as Maddox asked her what had happened with Bennett. The girl, 11, testified she was afraid she would get into trouble if she told. Jurors watched intently as she softly answered questions.

The girl eventually told a friend, who then told a teacher, leading to the investigation, Maddox said.

“These are not offenses like bank robberies,” in which witnesses and videotape evidence typically is available, Payne said. “It comes down to the ability of the young victim to articulate what happened.”

The girl’s family was satisfied with the verdict, he said.

The case previously ended in a mistrial due to testimony from one of the witnesses.

Payne said Bennett could have faced sentences of one to 20 years on each of the aggravated sexual battery counts and one to five years on each of the indecent liberties charges.

Gamble cannot increase the jury’s 12-year sentence recommendation, but he could reduce it, Payne said.

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