LARGO — The Dixie Hollins High School football player accused of assaulting a 15-year-old girl on a school bus has decided to put his fate in the hands of a judge.
Branden Allen, 19, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to lewd or lascivious battery and false imprisonment for attacking the girl at school in May, while two of his friends served as lookouts.
Allen, who was 18 at the time of the attack, pleaded guilty without making any deal with prosecutors and could get up to 20 years for the crimes.
His attorney, Ryan Fasso, said Allen would seek to be classified as a youthful offender, which would allow Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thane Covert to give him a shorter sentence than normally allowed. But Fasso said his client understood Covert has wide discretion on sentencing.
Covert said that at first glance, it appeared Allen met the legal qualifications for the youthful offender program, but he said there was no guarantee Allen would get a break on his sentence.
Assistant State Attorney Douglas Ellis stressed the same point, saying "the court may not give you youthful offender. He may get up to 20 years."
Ellis said he would oppose youthful offender status for Allen because of the nature of the crime.
"Any time there's an adult — he was 18 at the time — fondling a child … that's very serious. When you have that kind of situation, victims take a very long time to recover, years and years. Much longer than the average defendant ever gets," Ellis said after the hearing.
On the advice of their attorney, Allen and his family declined to comment.
Prosecutors and the defense will get a chance to argue their cases at a sentencing hearing May 1.
The crime occurred in May when Allen and two other students got onto a school bus that runs late for students who participate in after-school activities. Allen was a football, basketball and track athlete for Dixie, and once hoped to go on to the Air Force.
Allen got on the bus with two younger students, who were 15 and 16 at the time.
The 15-year-old girl also got on the bus, apparently thinking it was time for the bus to leave. She told sheriff's investigators that she knew the other three only by sight, not by name.
While on the bus, Allen molested her.
The girl "said she was so afraid she did not yell for help," according to the initial sheriff's investigative report, which was released Tuesday. She also said she did not feel she could have left the bus because "One boy was standing on the entry steps and the other was sitting in the driver's seat. Either could have stopped me if I attempted to leave."
The other two youths were sanctioned in the juvenile court system and put on probation.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232.