In a surprise development, Mandy Rae Walker has pleaded guilty to 16 felony charges involving sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy.
Walker, 30, an Orange County resident, originally pleaded not guilty and was scheduled for a three-day jury trial beginning Tuesday of this week. But after her attorney, Brian Jones of Charlottesville, contacted Orange County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kate Fitzgerald on Saturday night with word that his client had changed her plea, the trial was canceled.
At a hastily arranged hearing in Orange County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon, Walker entered a guilty plea to six counts of felonious carnal knowledge of a child between the ages of 13 and 15, six counts of feloniously taking indecent liberties with a child by a person in a custodial or supervisory relationship and four felony abduction charges.
Fitzgerald said she agreed to Jones’ request that four charges of abduction with intent to defile be reduced to simple abduction. In addition, the commonwealth won’t bring further charges against Walker for the five-month period covered by the investigation.
However, the prosecutor said there is no sentencing agreement between the commonwealth and Walker. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 130 years in prison and $40,000 in fines.
Sentencing, with Judge Dale Durrer presiding, will take place in circuit court at 1 p.m. on March 23, 2020.
Walker was arrested Nov. 27, 2018, after the Orange County Department of Social Services received an anonymous tip from a next-door neighbor and a subsequent investigation led by the Orange Police Department.
Fitzgerald said Walker had worked for Health Connect America—a counseling services company based in Tennessee with branches across the South, including a Culpeper office—during the time she was abusing the victim.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) contracts with Health Connect America, the prosecutor said, to provide community-based counseling services to minors and their families.
Walker completed the initial evaluation of the boy, had the assignment of providing intensive in-home counseling to him and was later promoted to program director for community-based service, Fitzgerald said. Even after the promotion to a supervisory position, the investigation revealed that Walker continued going to the boy’s home.
Walker apparently fooled the boy’s parents and her coworkers into believing she was reliable: “People trusted Mandy. She groomed everybody,” Fitzgerald said.
She cited one of Walker’s coworkers, who told her, “I just could not believe this was true. [Walker] was the go-to person. She knew everything; she was the person I took my problems to.”
But Fitzgerald said that after the coworker read the court file, including a report of DNA evidence, she was convinced of Walker’s guilt.
Of “groomers”—people who carefully lay the groundwork for sex abuse—Fitzgerald said they can be very convincing in the act they put on, which amounts to creating an appealing but false impression. “They are grooming all the time. They are putting out and selling [a version of themselves], and you’re buying exactly the version they want you to believe.”
Calling it “a really complicated case,” Fitzgerald lauded the Orange Police Department for its work and singled out Detective Adrienne Powell, who led the investigation, for special praise. In addition to the Orange police, investigators for the Orange County DSS and DNA scientists employed by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science contributed to the effort.
Fitzgerald said the investigation involved the collection of thousands of pages of text messages and other social media communications between Walker and the victim, along with DNA evidence gathered from blankets, sheets and other items.