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A California man’s guilty plea on Friday to sexually abusing a girl beginning when she was 6 years old resulted in a suspended prison sentence.

Jeffrey Bixby, now 54, acknowledged in court that he had “destroyed the faith and trust” that the girl and her family had placed with him, through the acts that a prosecutor said occurred during the child’s visits during a four-year period to Bixby’s home.

The plea agreement was presented to a judge by the prosecutor brought in from Charles County and Bixby’s lawyer from Annapolis. “This is what the family decided, and the judge and the prosecutor agreed,” the girl’s mother said this week of the plea deal, which included no active incarceration.

“Our families were very close,” she added. “It was in the best interest of the children involved.”

Bixby would get into a shower with the girl, the prosecutor said at Friday’s hearing, and at other times, Bixby would unlawfully touch the girl, with explanations that he “checked her for ticks” and played a “doctor game” with her.

“He explained he was a firefighter, and had to practice stuff for work,” Charles County Assistant State’s Attorney Tiffany Campbell said during the proceeding held in a St. Mary’s courtroom.

In a telephone conversation with the girl, Bixby apologized for his actions, the prosecutor said, but he was adamant that he did nothing with any sexual intent.

A letter from the girl was read aloud in court by her therapist.

The letter said that what Bixby did “will hurt me for many years to come” and “I told on you because I don’t want any more kids to be hurt.”

Campbell said it was important to the girl and her family that Bixby “accept responsibility” for his actions and be listed for the rest of his life on a sex offender registry, which also was part of the plea agreement accepted by St. Mary’s Circuit Judge Karen H. Abrams.

J. Dennis Murphy Jr., Bixby’s lawyer, said his client has no prior record and is getting counseling, and that he did not want to cause any further “stress or harm” to the girl and her family.

Bixby said, “I destroyed the faith and trust you put in me, and I’ll never get that back.”

Abrams said during the hearing that she initially was reluctant to accept a plea agreement that includes no active incarceration, but that the girl would be spared “the anguish of a trial and the testimony” through the agreement.

“This is the absolute worst kind of case,” the judge said, expressing hope that a process of healing would progress for the child and her family.

The judge sentenced Bixby to a 10-year prison sentence, suspended on the condition that he register as a sex offender, continue counseling, have no unsupervised contact with any children younger than 16 and have no contact whatsoever with the girl and her family during three years of supervised probation.

“I would hope that there isn’t any danger of a violation of probation,” Abrams said.

A sentencing guidelines worksheet prepared by the prosecutor listed a guidelines range in Bixby’s case of 10 to 18 years in prison. The maximum penalty for sexual abuse of a minor is 25 years in prison.

Campbell said after the hearing that she handled the case at the request of the St. Mary’s state’s attorney’s office. State’s Attorney Richard D. Fritz (R) said this week that one of Bixby’s relatives works in his office’s child-support division.

Bixby went on a leave of absence from the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department last October.

He submitted a letter of resignation in December, the fire department’s chief said last winter after Bixby initially was charged with the crime in district court through the investigation by St. Mary’s detective Lt. David Yingling.