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TEXARKANA, Texas — A Texas appellate court has affirmed the life sentence a Bowie County jury handed down for a man who repeatedly molested the 12-year-old daughter of a friend who gave him a place to stay.

Tonny Obray Ezernack, 39, pleaded guilty in December to the continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14 but asked that a jury determine his punishment. The offense to which Ezernack pleaded guilty is punishable by 25 to 99 years or life in prison and there is no parole from any punishment imposed.

On appeal, Ezernack argued that his trial lawyer was ineffective because he failed to object to something a prosecutor said during closing arguments. The prosecutor expressed the opinion that Ezernack's case was among the worst seen in his career and that it warranted a life sentence.

While such an argument was improper, the defense lawyer's failure to object to it did not rise to the level of an ineffective defense, according to an opinion issued Thursday by the 6th District Court of Appeals headquartered at the Bi-State Justice Building in downtown Texarkana.

At trial, witnesses testified that Ezernack was a childhood friend of the victim's mother and had been staying at their home. Ezernack, who has 12 children of his own with different women, told a New Boston, Texas, investigator that he would have preferred a sexual relationship with a woman of his own age but none were available and spoke of his babysitting schedule.

Ezernack lost his composure during the trial, mumbling expletives when a prosecutor described him as a child predator and appearing to rise from his seat at the defense table while the jury was seated. While being transported from the courtroom to a holding cell in the secure hallway of the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston, Ezernack turned to a female prosecutor and referred to her with profanity.

"When Tonny Ezernack's conduct was discovered by this child victim's mother, the indescribable harm to this child had already been done," Assistant District Attorney Katie Carter said. "However, now that his life sentence has been affirmed by the 6th District Court of Appeals, hopefully this child can have some closure and continue to work through the healing process."

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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