NEW BOSTON, Texas—A local man was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after a Bowie County jury found him guilty of repeatedly molesting the daughter of a former girlfriend.
Rickey Wayne Willis, 55, was found guilty of the continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14. The offense is punishable by 25 to 99 years or life, but Willis' prior felony record upped the available punishment to a maximum life term. Willis received an eight-year prison term in 1991 as part of a plea bargain in Miller County, Ark., for first-degree sexual abuse involving a girl who was 2 or 3 at the time of the assault.
The prior conviction led 202nd District Judge John Tidwell to impose an automatic sentence of life without the possibility of parole for Willis' misconduct.
The victim named in the indictment charging Willis with continuous sexual abuse of a child said that she was assaulted in a Texarkana, Texas, apartment and in a New Boston residence on multiple occasions in 2016 and early 2017, under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Katie Carter. The girl, now 11, held a blanket as she spoke from the witness stand about being violated in multiple ways.
The girl said she told her mother about the abuse several times but her mother took no action.
"She told me to give him another chance," the 11-year-old said. "She said to just stay away from Rickey."
In May 2017 the girl's mother took her to a local medical clinic for treatment of a vaginal infection. The girl testified that her mother encouraged her to tell medical staff that it was a boy from the neighborhood who inappropriately touched her. Medical personnel are required by law to report suspected abuse.
When interviewed forensically at the request of law enforcement, the girl reported that it was actually Willis who abused her. That prompted Johnny Millwood of the New Boston Police Department to seek charges not only against Willis, but against the victim's mother as well.
The mother testified she is serving a misdemeanor term of probation for failure to report a felony. The victim now resides with her grandmother.
A woman who was 11 in 1990 testified that she was shocked when she walked into a room after returning with family members from a trip to the store to find Willis standing over her then 2- or 3-year-old cousin. The woman testified that Willis' pants were pulled down as were the toddler's panties. That incident led to Willis' conviction in Miller County.
A Dallas high school student who is related to Willis by marriage testified that Willis molested her regularly during family get-togethers beginning when she was about 5 and continuing until she was in junior high.
"I remember his boxer shorts," the Dallas girl said, choking on tears and looking away from the faces that filled the courtroom and jury box.
Willis lashed out at the witnesses during an intense cross examination by First Assistant District Attorney Mike Shepherd.
"That's what I'm calling her. A liar," he answered as Shepherd questioned him about the victim witnesses.
Under direct examination by Texarkana lawyer Bart Craytor, Willis denied any wrongdoing.
Shepherd and Carter pointed to his prior conviction for a sex offense involving a child and the testimonies of the victim witnesses.
"Rickey Willis is a child sexual predator," Carter argued in closing. "And he's been at this for 28 years."
Shepherd said he believes Texas lawmakers had offenders like Willis in mind when the criminal code was written to include the law and punishment applied in his case.
"Rickey Willis is exactly the kind of sexual predator for whom this law requiring a mandatory sentence of life without parole is on the books," Shepherd said. "He showed no remorse for the long- term damage he has done to the three children he molested."