Area man pleads guilty to sexual charges

LISBON – A Salem man accused of having sexual relations with two teenage girls in the fall of 2012 pleaded guilty to five charges on Friday in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court.

Mark E. Knight Jr., 27, North Ellsworth Avenue, pleaded guilty to a sexual battery charge involving a then-13-year-old girl. The charge was reduced from rape, with which Knight was initially charged.

Additionally, he pleaded guilty to four counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for activities with the girl’s 14-year-old sister on four occasions, including in two different homes and in an automobile parked in a driveway.

Assistant County Prosecutor Timothy McNicol said he spoke with the mother of the two girls, and she was in favor of the plea agreement, which would save her daughters from having to testify in a trial against Knight. He was scheduled for a jury trial on the charges the first week in June.

Sentencing was scheduled for July 3, when McNicol said he will ask for a five- year concurrent sentence on each of the counts. A sixth charge of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles for allegedly sending three photographs of his genitals to the 14-year-old girl by way of text message will be dismissed at the sentencing hearing.

McNicol will also suggest Knight be labeled a tier III sexual offender, which will require him to registration and verification requirements every 90 days for life. The tier III designation is the highest level of sexual offenders.

At one point in 2013, Knight was found with another 14-year-old girl, a runaway hiding in the apartment above his home. Salem police had found the girl in a vacant apartment on the second floor above Knight’s first floor apartment after noticing an extension cord leading from the first story to an upstairs window.

The girl had been reported missing Sept. 23 by her parents when she failed to return home from school. Police sought the public’s help in finding her and received a tip the morning of Sept. 26 from some newspaper carriers who thought they saw her at the North Ellsworth Avenue property with Knight.

Knight was charged with obstructing official business after telling police he had no knowledge of where the girl was and claiming the upstairs apartment was padlocked and vacant. When police located the girl in the apartment, Knight attempted to run.

He served a 30-day jail sentence after pleading guilty to the obstruction of official business charge in Columbiana County Municipal Court in October.