By MARY RAINWATER
An Anderson County jury sentenced Willis Demond Carwell, 32, of Palestine to a total of 375 years in prison on five counts of sexual assault of a child on Tuesday afternoon at the Anderson County Courthouse
The jury of eight men and four women reached verdicts of 75 years on each count at 1:13 p.m. Tuesday following a sentencing hearing that began on Monday in the court of State District Judge Pam Foster Fletcher.
Anderson County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Watkins represented the State of Texas with assistance from District Attorney Doug Lowe. Local attorney Mark Cargill represented Carwell.
Carwell, who showed little emotion as the verdict was read, had earlier pleaded guilty to the assaults which are second degree felony. However, the possible punishment range was increased to a minimum of five years and maximum of 99 years or life because Carwell had been to prison for burglary of a habitation.
The female child victim, now 15, testified in response to questioning by ADA Watkins about how she came to know Carwell.
“My mom took me with her to a meeting of Alcoholic’s Anonymous and we met and I talked to him (Carwell). He came over to my house after that,” the victim said. “He came to my 14th birthday party.
“The first time we had sex I left my window unlocked and he snuck in. When we had sex I thought it was wrong, but didn’t say anything,” the victim testified. “I felt like I was in love with him (Carwell). He was 31, but I didn’t think about his age.”
The victim testified that she was getting a urinary infection and was taken to the hospital by her mother.
“The nurse told me I was pregnant. My mom was in shock,” she said. “I had the baby because I believe abortion is wrong. I plan on raising my baby.”
The jury heard testimony from Anderson County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Ronnie Foster, the case’s lead investigator, that DNA testing proved Carwell was the father of the baby born to the victim.
Jessi Jones, RN and Anderson County Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, testified that the child victim’s physical development was age appropriate for a 14-year-old, but that the victim was obviously emotionally immature.
“She told me that they were going to get married and live happily ever after,” Jones related to the jury. “This is why the law says children cannot consent to sexual encounters. Even if they have the physical ability to have sex, they are not emotionally equipped to handle the results.”
In closing arguments, Watkins reminded the jury that it was not the victim's responsibility to say no, but the defendant's.
“This defendant was manipulative and a user,” she said. “It’s not up to a child to say ‘no;’ it’s up to the 31-year-old grown man not to prey on a vulnerable and easy target. And, now it’s up to you to decide the right punishment.”
Evidence presented during the trial showed Carwell was on parole at the time of the crime.
Under Texas law, an offender serving a 75-year sentence is eligible for parole after 30 years. However, Judge Fletcher elected to “stack” one of the sentences so Carwell will serve at least 60 years before he is eligible for parole.
“The defendant’s crime and his lengthy criminal history justify the long prison sentences,” Lowe added. “It’s obvious to me that Carwell took advantage of a child and preyed upon her immaturity.”
The identity of the victim or victim’s family is not provided in order to protect the privacy of the injured parties.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org