By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000
LARGO -- A former WFLA-Ch. 8 news photographer pleaded guilty Friday to a charge that he fondled a 9-year-old family friend who was visiting his Clearwater home.
Mark S. Roberts, 47, who was a WFLA news employee for 17 years before leaving the station in November when the charge was filed, was sentenced to two years of house arrest to be followed by five years of probation.
Under state guidelines, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt Downey III could have sentenced Roberts to seven to 30 years in state prison for the lewd and lascivious charge.
But after a presentation by Roberts' attorney, Jay Hebert, Downey decided to depart from a prison sentence for several reasons, including the need for restitution to the victim who must undergo counseling because of the molestation.
Downey also noted that Roberts was cooperative with police and showed remorse for the crime.
Roberts was accused of rubbing the girl's breasts and attempting to touch her genital area under her clothing while she slept. Police said the girl awoke during the incident and later told her mother.
Roberts was WFLA's assistant chief of photography for its Pinellas newsroom before he left the station.