Martial Arts Instructor Pleads Guilty To Sexual Abuse Of Minors

SNOW HILL — A Salisbury martial arts instructor, indicted last fall on dozens of counts of sexual solicitation and sex abuse of a minor in both Worcester and Wicomico counties, pleaded guilty this week and now faces a maximum of 75 years in jail and a lifetime on the sex offender registry.

Last October, Zachariah Bennett, 26, was indicted by a Wicomico County grand jury on 29 total counts including first-degree rape for his alleged illicit activities involving minors while employed as an instructor at Mitchell’s Mixed Martial Arts in Salisbury. In November, a Worcester County grand jury indicted Bennett on five counts ranging from sexual abuse of a minor sexual abuse of a minor to second-, third- and fourth-degree sex offenses.

In Worcester County Circuit Court on Tuesday, Bennett pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse of a minor and a pre-sentence investigation and mental health assessment were ordered.

On Tuesday, Bennett appeared in Wicomico County Circuit Court to face the indictments in that jurisdiction and pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual abuse of a minor. The guilty pleas in both jurisdictions carry a maximum penalty of 75 years in prison. Although sentencing date has been scheduled in Wicomico, a pre-sentence investigation and mental health assessment has also been ordered in that jurisdiction. Regardless of the sentencing, Bennett will be considered a Tier III sex offender and will be required to register as a sex offender in both counties for life.

In the Wicomico County incidents, Bennett was charged for a series of incidents from May 2015 to September 2015. According to court documents, the incidents started with sexually-explicit text messages from Bennett and co-defendant Leah Wright, 21, to teenage girls under their direction as martial arts instructors and escalated into sexually physical acts with the minor victims. Wright has also been charged and is scheduled for trial in Wicomico in May.

In the Worcester County cases, Bennett was indicted on five total counts stemming from an incident outside the Jolly Roger Amusement Park last summer.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.