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Cold case ends after 16 years

ALBANY -- A file that was opened on a child molestation case more than 16 years ago was closed Monday after the defendant in the case, Matthew Sowell, accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors on the eve of his trial.

Sowell was originally charged with child molestation in November 1993, but fled to his native Pennsylvania when he bonded out of jail a month later, prosecutors say.

Since that time, Sowell has lived life as a free man, unencumbered by the charges that remained open and active against him in Dougherty County. That ended earlier this year when he was arrested on a 16-year-old bench warrant and brought back to Albany.

With his trial set to begin today, Sowell accepted a last-minute plea agreement on Monday which will send him to state prison for the next two years and place him on probation for the next 13, Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards said.

The Alford plea is one that allows Sowell to avoid admitting guilt to the charges against him, but stipulates that he is pleading guilty because he's been advised that its in his best interest to do so.

It was a sentence that Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss was reluctant to pass.

"I think we all recognize that the state offered this plea because of the issues associated with the time period ... and I'll go along with the plea because he didn't actually touch the victim," Goss said. "But you know, this is child molestation and I hope this brings some level of closure to the victims in this case."

Sowell stood accused of making inappropriate sexual advances -- including exposing himself -- in front of the victim, who was a female relative but not a blood relation. She was 11 or 12 years old at the time of the incident.

Prosecutors also allege that Sowell showed pornographic images to the victim and spied on her while she was showering.

As a matter of policy, The Albany Herald does not identify the victims of sexual assault.

The victim in the case and her mother made an appearance before the court and asked that they sentence Sowell for "stealing my childhood."

In addition to the prison time and probation, Sowell must register as a sex offender and never be alone with any child who is under 18 years old. He was also banished from Dougherty County.