A sentencing hearing has been set for March 13 in Cullman County Circuit Court for a former county couple convicted this week on a total of five counts of sexual abuse involving a minor male under the age of 12.

A jury on Wednesday took less than two hours to find Michael James Hubbard, 29, guilty of sexual abuse first-degree, a Class C felony; and sodomy first-degree, a Class A felony. The jury also found his wife, Irene Elizabeth Hubbard, 29, guilty of those same counts plus an additional count of rape first-degree, a Class A felony.

Circuit Judge Don Hardeman, who presided during the three-day trial, will also preside during the sentencing hearing.

A Class C felony carries a sentence of between one to 10 years. A Class A felony carries a punishment of between 10 and 99 years.

Assistant District Attorney Martha Williams praised the young victim for testifying in the case.

"It was very difficult for him and he was so very brave. I hated to have to put him through that ordeal, but the law as it stands now required that he take the stand. I personally wish it wasn't that way, but it is and he was wonderful," Williams said.

Both defendants testified on their own behalf.

Michael Hubbard was represented by Cullman attorney Jeremy Hancock, while Irene Hubbard was represented by local attorney Melvin Hastings.

Hastings said Friday that his client still maintains her innocence and preparations are already being made in anticipation of an appeal.

"A sentencing date for my client has been set for March and after that we will definitely appeal the conviction. Hopefully some or all of the counts will be overturned and hopefully the case will be retried," Hastings said. "As far as the trial itself — I did my job and Martha did her job. The jury was very attentive and did their job and Judge Hardeman made his rulings on the law. We'll be reviewing the court proceedings very closely and see where mistakes were made. I definitely feel there are grounds for an appeal."

Attempts to reach Hancock for comment were unsuccessful.

Williams said the guilty verdict is important for a number of reasons, but is especially important for young victims who need to know that there are adults who want to protect them, believe them and seek justice for them when they are abused.

"You can never know precisely what a jury will see or feel when they are presented a case like this, especially when it involves something that is so difficult to accept that this sort of behavior exists in our community," Williams said. "This jury was extremely attentive and I think they took their job seriously and rendered a verdict they all have confidence in."

In addition to the boy, Williams called to the stand the investigative case worker from Marshall County, a therapeutic foster care supervisor, the child's foster mother, Cullman County Sheriff's Investigator Rob Cook, and the child's therapist.

The abuse, which Williams said came to light in November 2004, occurred over a number of years while the family resided in Cullman County. The case, she said, was investigated with the assistance of the Marshall County Child Advocacy Center.

"I think we need to do whatever needs to be done to protect our youngest citizens," Williams said. "They depend on adults around them to keep them safe and protect them from the kind of horrific acts that were heaped upon this child. We need to all be more alert to these types of things in our community."

In 2004, the Cullman County Department of Human Resources received 1,040 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect.

On a per capita basis, Cullman County is in the top 10 in the state in the number of abuse or neglect reports.

The Child Advocacy Center interviews victims of abuse for use in prosecuting the perpetrators, provides counseling to the victim and victim's families and offers prevention programs to help stop potential abusers before they commit a crime.

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