Sexually themed cases in court

Brunner, Choate given sentences in common pleas court


ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Several sex-based criminal cases were heard by Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato on Monday.

Cody Brunner, 30, of 1439 Pearl St., Moundsville was sentenced to the maximum of one and half years in prison for gross sexual imposition, a felony of the fourth degree that occurred Aug. 1, 2018. The victim was a female younger than 13 and was known to Brunner. The prosecutor’s office did not release details regarding the circumstances of the crime, but Brunner was designated a Tier 2 sex offender.

The mother of the victim briefly addressed the court, describing the lasting emotional harm of Brunner’s crime and his abuse of trust, which facilitated the offense.

Brunner’s attorney, Bruce Clark, asked Fregiato to consider Brunner’s lack of criminal history.

“He’s taken responsibility. He knows what he’s done. It’s a terrible thing, and he’s apologetic for it,” Clark said, adding that Brunner hopes to receive counseling for his mental health and addiction issues. Bruce asked that a probationary sentence and community controls be considered.


“I just want to say I’m sorry,” Brunner said. “Drugs and alcohol ruined my life, and now I’m here today to pay for it.”

Fregiato reviewed facts of the case, including inappropriate touching that Brunner reportedly initiated, as well as a text message Brunner reportedly sent to the victim.

“This court as a father, as a grandfather and as a member of this community, (I) am entirely offended by the facts of this case,” Fregiato said.

Fregiato also ordered Brunner to seek psychiatric and rehabilitation services.

Belmont County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Doug Cruse commended the victim for coming forward.


“A lot of people think it’s going to be an immediate disclosure, but there’s very traumatizing things that happen to kids and sometimes it does take some time. She eventually found the courage to inform her mom what he’d done to her, and once it was reported to police we took action and began the investigation,” Cruse said. “It’s just very sad that we live in a society where people do prey on children.”

In an unrelated case, Bryan Keith Choate, 38, of 150 Northwest St., Flushing was sentenced to eight years behind bars for pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor, a felony of the second degree, and aggravated possession of drugs, a felony of the third degree, both of which occurred April 20. He was designated a Tier 2 sex offender.

Belmont County Public Defender Frank Pierce pointed out that although the case is a serious one, Choate does not have a prior felony record.

“He had a good job in the oil industry, was making good money, spent every penny on meth (amphetamine) and spent his free time at the computer and his life, which was a good productive life.

With those two issues in his life, those two obsessions or addictions … his life took a bad turn,” Pierce said. “I don’t think anything that was happening ever happened in real life. I think it was a drug-induced crime of imagination, although we understand there are real victims at the end of the line of information in those kind of cases.”

Choate said he has been an addict for 10 years and was repentant for his crimes.

“Whatever you sentence is God’s will for my life,” he said.

“We have real, live victims in this case,” Fregiato said, adding that drug paraphernalia was found at Choate’s Flushing residence. “This court believes that our children will be protected, and we’ll do whatever we need to do to protect them.”

Fregiato imposed a sentence of eight years for the sex crime and three years for the drug crime, to be served concurrently for a total of eight years.

According to Cruse, the sheriff’s office received the report of Choate’s activities from the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

“They ultimately gave us the lead that he was in fact sharing … child pornography online. We were able to follow up on that,” Cruse said, adding that about 100 pieces of child pornography were found. “Almost every time we go to their residence, we almost always find a tremendous amount more stored on their computers or phones.”

He added that Sheriff David Lucas and Prosecutor Dan Fry are dedicated to protecting children.

Also, James Dean Booth, 40, of 1516 N. Eighth St., Martins Ferry, pleaded guilty to illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, a felony of the second degree, and possession of child pornography, a felony of the fifth degree. His sentencing was set for Aug. 26. A pre-sentence investigation, victim impact statement and and Eastern Ohio Correction Center evaluation were ordered.

Booth is serving a 180-day jail sentence for two counts of voyeurism, ending Sept. 1. He was convicted of entering the women’s restroom at an Interstate 70 rest stop in Belmont County and recording images of people. The Ohio State Highway Patrol, Belmont County Sheriff’s Department and the Martins Ferry Police Department investigated. A search warrant was executed at his Eighth Street residence, where child pornography reportedly was found.

The prosecutor’s office has said charges stem from allegations that Booth secretly photographed juveniles in numerous public places.

Cruse said Booth’s alleged activities included elements of stalking.

“This is something that we believe did involve multiple jurisdictions,” Cruse said. “We ended up working with the Highway Patrol and also agencies in West Virginia. … Some of the things he was investigated for is disturbing, to say the least.”


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