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1 jailed in child abuse inquiry

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A nearly five-month search for a Hope resident wanted on multiple charges of child molesting ended Sunday, but the man now is free on bond.

Dennis R. Hatton, 60, of 15860 E. Stafford Road, was booked into the Bartholomew County jail at 7:21 p.m. Sunday on a warrant charging him with three counts of child molesting.

He appeared before Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann during a 9 a.m. initial hearing Tuesday, where the defendant was formally read the charges and given his rights. A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf, and a $250,000 surety bond was reaffirmed by Heimann.

While Hatton told the court that he intended to seek a bail reduction, a $25,000 cash bond was posted Tuesday for his release, according to Bartholomew County Deputy Sheriff Maj. Todd Noblitt. He said Hatton walked out of the Bartholomew County Jail at 11:18 a.m.

The bond was paid by Valerie Archer, according to the Bartholomew County Clerk’s office. Archer is a relative of Hatton, according to a Nov. 21, 2007, obituary for Hatton’s mother that was published in The Republic.

Charges against Hatton include one Class B felony and two Class D felonies of child molesting. If convicted on all three counts, he could be ordered to serve a combined 10 to 36 years in prison, as well as pay combined fines of up to $30,000.

The offenses involving a 7-year-old girl took place between February and August of last year, according to an affidavit filed Oct. 2 by Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Lancaster.

The child said Hatton had forced her to perform a sex act on him, according to the affidavit. The court document also stated the girl claimed she had been repeatedly touched inappropriately by the defendant.

When confronted by Lancaster about the child’s allegations in late September, Hatton told the deputy it was the 7-year-old who made the initial sexual advances, the affidavit stated.

An arrest warrant and a court order forbidding Hatton to have direct or indirect contact with the girl were issued Oct. 4, by then-Bartholomew Superior Court I Judge Chris Monroe.

“When that warrant came out, Hatton left the immediate area and worked on being undetected,” Noblitt said. “He cut off most of his normal activities and associations.”

According to court records, a number of efforts were made by the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department to locate and arrest Hatton.

Investigators began receiving information about four weeks ago that Hatton had been living out of his RV in remote areas outside Bartholomew County, Noblitt said. He added that detectives talked to Hatton on his cellphone a number of times and made unsuccessful attempts to persuade him to surrender.

While investigators didn’t know Hatton’s location, Noblitt said they received information that the Hope man had made occasional visits to his hometown. He added they also received a tip that he would be in Hope on Sunday. Noblitt said that while the suspect had left the first location searched by deputies, Hatton was finally found and arrested in another area of northeastern Bartholomew County.

During Tuesday’s initial hearing, Hatton told Heimann that while family members made an appointment this week with a Nashville-area attorney to represent him, he did not know the name of the lawyer. Heimann scheduled a status of counsel hearing for April 1.

Tentative court dates set Tuesday for Hatton include a change of plea hearing on June 17 and a trial date of July 2.

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