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Former Southern Ute executive pleads not guilty to sex abuse charges

McKean Walton scheduled for trial later this year

McKean Walton, former executive officer with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple felony charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of a minor.

Walton, 51 of Ignacio faces two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child younger than 12 and one count of sexual abuse of a minor between 12 and 16. The alleged conduct took place between 2009 and 2011 on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation with the same victim.

Walton requested a jury trial, which means 12 jurors must unanimously agree that the prosecutor has proved each and every element of each and every count beyond a reasonable doubt, said U.S. Magistrate Judge James Candelaria during a detention hearing Thursday. The trial will likely start between Oct. 4 and Nov. 13.

If convicted, Walton would face 30 years to life in prison, a $250,000 fine or both for the aggravated sexual assault charges. The third sexual assault count would result in a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine or both. The judge determines the final penalties.

The assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, Jeffrey Graves, also filed a no contact order, which means Walton cannot make any type of contact with the alleged victim, nor can his family or friends contact the person on Walton’s behalf.

Large television screens were placed around the federal courtroom at the La Plata County Courthouse. Walton appeared via video conferencing from the La Plata County Jail, a procedure to limit personal interaction during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of turning to an in-person defendant, Candelaria spoke into a screen on his bench.

“If you violate this, you will be in violation of a court order,” Candelaria said to Walton.

The court will be in recess until Sept. 17, when it will take up the matter of detention. Walton will remain in custody of the U.S. marshal until then, Candelaria said.

As executive officer, Walton managed all tribal government departments, the administration’s daily business and the tribe’s budget. In 2011, Walton was the games coordinator for the tribe, according to The Southern Ute Drum.

smullane@durangoherald.com