On December 16, James Robert Branch, 44 of Preston, appeared before District Court Judge Matthew J. Opat. Branch is charged with Malicious Punishment of a Child, Domestic Assault – Commits Act With Intent to Cause Fear, and Domestic Assault – Inflicts or Attempts to Inflict Bodily Harm. All three are felonies, each carrying maximum criminal penalties of five years in prison and/or $10,000 fines. On or about December 12, the defendant reported his 10-year-old daughter missing. Amidst the meeting, the associated police officer allegedly could smell alcohol on the defendant’s breath. The officer then got word from Fillmore County Social Services that the defendant was allegedly assaulting his daughter (the potential reason she did not come home). Two other concerned adults interviewed (victim’s stepmother, victim’s friend’s mother) allegedly reported knowing about hard spankings and subsequent bruises and marks left on the victim. The police officer met with the victim, who allegedly had bruises and marks from “her dad.” The victim also allegedly confessed that the defendant drinks a lot. The stepmother (who previously lived with the Branch) admitted the spankings had previously went on “almost every day” for years, and that the defendant had called her recently and told her to “back him up, because if he gets charged, it’s a felony.” The defendant allegedly denied knowing about the bruises. He stated that he spanks his daughter “once a month” and that the victim is “not abused” but “corrected when she does wrong.” He allegedly admitted that the last time he spanked the victim, he had consumed 3.5 beers. Branch has three prior qualified convictions, Malicious Punishment of a Child (3/18/2015) in Wabasha County, Domestic Assault (3/4/2013) in Fillmore County, and Domestic Assault (10/5/2011) in Wabasha County.