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Wheeling man gets 14 years for molesting child
By Sue Ter Maat | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/26/2008 1:40 PM | Updated: 2/27/2008 12:14 AM

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A Wheeling man accused of fondling a young boy in the children's department of a Mount Prospect Wal-Mart was sentenced to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty Tuesday at the Rolling Meadows courthouse.

Kenneth J. Vernon, 38, a convicted child sex offender, had faced multiple charges of aggravated criminal sexual assault and battery in connection with the incident.

Before Judge John J. Scotillo sentenced him, Vernon said, "I apologize for my conduct."

Vernon, 38, removed the 8-year-old boy's shoes, sucked on his toes and touched him inappropriately in 2006, Assistant State's Attorney Shari Chandra said.

In previous court hearings in Rolling Meadows, prosecutors charged that Vernon stalked the Franklin Park boy for 30 minutes before luring him to a quiet corner of the children's clothing section.

The child recounted the incident to his mother, who had been shopping with her daughter and a friend when he became separated from the group.

The boy identified Vernon from photos and the surveillance video, prosecutors said.

Authorities then tried to question Vernon at his home in Wheeling. Vernon fled, setting off a multi-state manhunt that ended with a crash on a rural Oklahoma highway. Vernon was caught and returned to Mount Prospect police.

It was not Vernon's first brush with the law and Scotillo said the typical sentence for the crime is seven years, but he sentenced Vernon to 14 because of prior convictions.

In 1996, he was convicted of indecent exposure after following two boys riding their bikes and revealing himself when they stopped to call police.

In 2004, Vernon was arrested and convicted for lewd behavior with a child in South Carolina. He was given a suspended sentence at the time and put on probation.

The Buffalo Grove High School graduate served in the U.S. Army for 18 months, said Richard Fadell, an assistant public defender.

He briefly attended Harper College in Palatine and worked at a cell phone customer call center.