ELKTON — A man accused of inappropriately touching a girl inside a Cecil County residence on several occasions during a five-month period is facing up to 10 years in prison after accepting a plea deal, according to court records.

The defendant, Kenneth L. Cotton, 48, entered an Alford plea to third-degree sex offense during a Cecil County Circuit Court hearing on Tuesday, the day that his jury trial was set to start, court records show.

In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains his innocence while acknowledging that the state possesses enough evidence to convict him at trial. The judge then finds the defendant guilty after hearing or reading the statement of fact that prosecutors read aloud in the courtroom or submit in writing to the court.

In exchange for Cotton’s Alford plea, prosecutors dismissed related charges of sexual solicitation of a minor, which also carries a maximum 10-year sentence, and fourth-degree sex offense, which is punishable by up to one year in jail.

Cotton’s sentencing is set for Dec. 8, court records show.

Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes accepted Cotton’s Alford plea during Tuesday’s proceeding. Assistant State’s Attorney Zachary Payne and Cotton’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Thomas Klenk, negotiated the plea agreement.

Elkton Police Department detectives started their investigation on Oct. 11, 2020, after the victim confided in her mother concerning unwanted touching by Cotton and her mother, in turn, contacted authorities, police reported.

That investigation led to a Cecil County grand jury handing up a three-count indictment against Cotton, court records show. The indictment indicates that Cotton committed his third-degree sex offense from May 1, 2020, when the victim was 11 years old, to Oct. 1, 2020, when she was 12, according to court records.

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