An Albertville man was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday after being found guilty of child sex abuse charges in May.
Daniel Herring, 37, was convicted of sexually abusing his then 6-year-old niece at his home on multiple occasions in 2017. The jury deliberated 15 minutes following three days of testimony May 12-14.
He slumped in a chair facing away from the victim and her family during Monday’s sentencing. Dressed in orange jail clothing, his hands were shackled in front of him. His parents, Eddy and Elizabeth Herring, sat quietly in the back of the courtroom.
The 10-year-old victim, surrounded by her mother, brother, and Fitzgerald II or “Fitz,” a facility dog, cried when Herring was led into the courtroom. She cried and held on to her mother for comfort.
During the hearing in front of Judge Chris Abel, the victim and her mother read victim’s impact statements. Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bray argued for the maximum sentence against Herring.
“I’m scared a lot of times,” the victim said as she clutched a sheet of notebook paper in one hand and Fitz’s leash in the other.
“I cry when I see him. I not comfortable going outside to play. I’m afraid he will drive up and hurt me again.”
Her mother echoed those statements.
“It broke my heart when I found out someone I trusted hurt my child,” she said. “He took something from her she will never be able to get back. He took her innocence, her trust. She will never forget what was done to her.
“She often wakes up in the middle of the night screaming from a nightmare. She’s scared to run into him again. She can’t play outside because she’s afraid he will drive up and get her.
“It not only affected her, but also me and my son. But she is brave and strong. She is going to have to deal with this and cope with it forever.”
Herring was allowed to comment and asked Abel why he wasn’t given a speedy trial and how could he have been found guilty when no one collected his DNA.
“How can I be guilty without using my DNA,” he asked again.
Abel sentenced Herring to 20 years in prison. The straight-time sentence will be served day-for-day, Abel said, with no allowances made for early release. He will be required to register as a sex offender and was ordered to not have any type of contact with the victim or her family.
Herring’s attorney, Enza Giles, gave oral notice that Herring intended to appeal the sentencing and asked Herring be released on bond while awaiting the appeal.
Abel denied the bond request “for the same reasons I have denied bond on several previous occasions,” he said.
Herring had been arrested before the May trial began and was charged with contempt after he made obscene gestures toward his attorney in the courtroom.
Giles said Herring’s arrest “surprised and shocked” Herring but that he has “seen the errors of his ways,” understanding now that his behavior was “not conducive to the judicial process.”
Abel denied the request at the time, saying he was shocked as well to see a defendant show such disrespect in a courtroom.
“Not 10 feet in front of me he flew birds to his attorney in such a display of disrespect,” Abel said. “That shocked me.
“I’m not changing my mind today. He will remain in custody.”
Peace, but not closure
Bray said she was thrilled with the sentencing Monday. She said ensuring Herring got the maximum sentence was important to her.
“I’m happy with the sentence handed down,” Bray said. “The victim and her family will get some peace, not necessarily closure. When he is released from prison, she will be an adult and better able to handle what has happened.”
Giles said Herring will appeal the sentence.
“It’s not the outcome we had desired,” Giles said. “No one wants to be in jail for an extended period of time.”
During the trial, the victim testified Herring touched her inappropriately while she was inside his mobile home, located next door to the home she and her brother lived with their grandparents. She said Herring would see her playing outside and would ask her - but not her brother - to come inside to play with him.
Herring testified the girl entered his home unannounced to use the restroom and ended up “messing” her pants. Herring’s estranged wife came into the home at that time to retrieve some belongings and testified she saw the girl holding her pants and underwear and Herring acting strangely while looking disheveled. Neither the girl nor the estranged wife testified of a bathroom accident.