Life + 25 x 2 for man convicted of child sex crimes
By Ken Childers
An Okemah man convicted of child sexual abuse has been sentenced to life in prison plus 25 years times two.
In November, an Okfuskee County jury found 63-year-old Mark Wattles guilty on four counts of child sexual abuse. Following suit with the jury’s recommendations, Judge Lawrence Parish last week handed down two life sentences, one each for counts one and two, plus a pair of 25-year sentences, one each for counts three and four.
The sentences for counts two and four are to run consecutively with counts one and three – meaning two sentences of life plus 25 years, served back-to-back.
The case stemmed from allegations of sexual abuse made by two young Texas girls who had spent the summer of 2017 with Wattles and his wife Mary at their Okemah home. Mary Wattles was charged with multiple counts of enabling child sexual abuse and will be tried at a future date. A motion made by the defense to have the two trials consolidated was denied by the court.
The initial investigation began in Abilene, Texas, when the girls, who were 12 and 14 years old at the time, returned home and confided in a family member about the incidents. The family member then notified the girls’ mother, which led to the notification of authorities.
During the trial, the girls’ father testified that the girls “crumbled” when he talked to them about the allegations they had made.
“This has been the toughest two years of my life,” the father said. “My daughter has been hospitalized, my kids are so much different, my wife and I nearly separated over this and I’ve changed careers,” he said. The father was an employee of the Texas Department of Corrections but left his job – which involved reading “gruesome details” of crimes – because he felt he could no longer “look at things objectively.”
The witness further testified that the younger of the two girls has been hospitalized three times for suicide attempts since 2017 and the older daughter had become “reclusive” and often wears sweaters, even in hot weather, to stay covered up. Both girls are still receiving counseling to treat sexual abuse-related trauma, according to their father.
Also during the trial, jurors were shown video of forensic interviews conducted with both girls in 2017 by Brandon Gurganus, Victims Services Specialist with the Abilene Police Department. In the video, the oldest of the two girls seemed reluctant to discuss the abuse, stating only that “bad things” had happened. She later wrote more details down on paper for Gargunus. The younger girl described several events, including one in which Wattles allegedly exposed himself to her. “I don’t get why he did it to me,” she said in the interview.
Mark and Mary Wattles were taken into custody in September 2017 and were scheduled to stand trial in October 2018, but it was rescheduled due to family health issues with the couple’s lawyer. The trial was rescheduled for May 13, 2019 but was continued twice, first until May 20 then to November.
According to court documents, Mark Wattles, a former employee of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, has filed notice that he intends to appeal the conviction.