A former Rhome resident was sentenced to 20 years in jail Thursday for a sex crime committed against his 10-year-old daughter.
Richard Lee Sherman, 37, was found guilty by a Wise County jury Wednesday of indecency with a child under age 14 by sexual contact and then given the maximum sentence allowed by law for the second-degree felony.
Prosecutors Jay Lapham and Tim Cole, assistant district attorneys, presented evidence that Sherman’s biological daughter was the victim of the crime, committed at Sherman’s home near Rhome in 2010.
The victim, who is not being identified because she is a minor and a victim of a sex crime, testified that her father touched her genitals on three separate occasions while she was sleeping in the bed her father shared with her stepmother. The child testified that she would always sleep in the middle, and her father would rub her genitals under her clothes. When she tried to move away, “He would pull me back closer to him,” she testified.
Although she couldn’t remember specific dates, she testified that the first incident happened over spring break, the second during the summer and the third after school started back up in the fall semester.
During this time, Sherman had custody of her, and the child would see her mom and grandparents on assigned weekends. The child had lived with her grandparents earlier but had been removed from the home, and permanent placement of the child was still being determined.
It was while she was returning from one of the weekend visits in November of that year that the child told her mother about the sexual encounters.
The following day, the child was interviewed by CPS Supervisor Jamey Holtzen, who asked the girl about the encounters with her father. Holtzen testified that the child was “clear and consistent in her statements” about the alleged assaults.
Wise County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Josh Reynolds was on hand to watch that interview, and he first met Sherman when he brought his other children to be interviewed as part of the investigation. Reynolds testified that he didn’t ask Sherman any questions that day, but Sherman told him, “If I did anything, I was asleep.”
The next day, Reynolds interviewed Sherman at the sheriff’s office. During that interview, Reynolds said that Sherman denied any wrongdoing, again saying he must have been asleep.
Reynolds met Sherman again the next day for another interview, this time at the Fort Worth Police Department. After he denied any wrongdoing once again, Reynolds said he took a “tougher” approach to the interview, telling Sherman he didn’t believe he was telling the truth.
Eventually, Sherman began to get more emotional and provide more information, Reynolds testified. In a recording of the interview played for the jury, Sherman admits to touching his daughter.
“I thought it was my wife,” Sherman is heard saying on the audio.
“I don’t know what made me do it,” he said.
He went on to say that when he realized it wasn’t his wife, he got up and went into the living room and cried. He said it only happened one time and called the experience, “humiliating.”
Reynolds is heard on the audio saying, “I believe you.”
Sherman’s attorney, Barry Green, argued that by stating that, Reynolds was saying he believed the truth was his client accidentally touched his daughter believing it was his wife. Responding to a question from Cole, Reynolds said he did not believe that was the truth.
The jury also heard testimony from Summer Clark, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth where the child underwent a sexual assault examination. She described her interview with the child four days after the outcry. Her testimony also included descriptions of the differences between the genitalia of a grown female and a 10- or 11-year-old female. She also testified that it is common for children not to report sexual abuse immediately because they are often scared.
Green called one witness, Khrystal Garcia, the CPS worker from Johnson County who was assigned to the child during the time frame of the assaults. She testified that she visited the child at least once a month to check on her well-being, and the child never mentioned any sexual abuse.
Green also asked about the maternal grandparents. Garcia testified that they had expressed a “very strong” desire to have custody of the child and noted there was “hostility in the case.”
A video of the child’s interview with CPS was also shown to the jury, and Green later pointed out several inconsistencies in the child’s statement between that interview, the interview at the sexual assault examination and the child’s testimony at trial. Those inconsistencies included the time frames of the three incidents, the reports of pain and bleeding associated with the assaults and the child’s conversations with Garcia (at one point in the CPS interview the day after the outcry, the child said she hadn’t seen Garcia since spring break of that year).
JURY HAD OPTIONS
The jury had four options to consider during their deliberation on guilt or innocence: guilty of continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child by sexual contact or not guilty. After just more than two hours of deliberation Wednesday afternoon, the jury returned a guilty verdict on the lesser charge of indecency with a child, a second-degree felony.
During the punishment phase the following morning, prosecutors provided evidence that Sherman violated his bond conditions and in fact committed more crimes after his arrest for sexual assault.
After Sherman was arrested for sexual abuse and released on bond, he was required to have no contact with children under 17 and stay 50 feet away from places where children commonly gather. A motion to hold his bond insufficient was filed after prosecutors said he went inside the Burleson Recreation Center.
More bond conditions were added, including requiring him to wear a GPS monitoring device and make payments on the device. Another motion to hold his bond insufficient was filed after Sherman repeatedly did not keep his monitor charged, failed to make his required payments for the device and was arrested for credit or debit card abuse.
A third motion was filed after Sherman was arrested on two separate drug charges. In May of last year, Sherman pleaded guilty in Tarrant County to the debit card abuse charge while having his drug charges dropped. He was placed on five years deferred adjudication and ordered to attend a drug treatment center.
In his closing argument, Green told the jury that Sherman had already been punished for the other crimes he committed, and he would forever wear the “scarlet letter” of registered sex offender for life.
“I ask you to be reasonable,” Green told the jury.
Lapham asked the jury to give the maximum sentence.
“It sends a message: don’t come up to Wise County and touch our children,” he said.
The message didn’t take long to send, as the jury deliberated for only 15 minutes before returning the maximum sentence of 20 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Reached after the trial for a statement, Green called the trial “grueling and emotional.”
“It was a mixed verdict,” Green wrote in an email. “On one hand, we were pleased that Richard was acquitted on the original charge, which carried with it a minimum of 25 real years without parole. On the other, the 20 years on the lesser charge was more than what we hoped for. But at least Richard will have the chance to make parole and carry on with the rest of his life.”
He said his client still maintains that he is innocent.
Sherman did not testify at his trial.
The child’s maternal grandmother, Fay Lowe, said after the trial that she was grateful for everyone who worked on the case.
“I want to thank everyone in Wise County who did their job and brought justice to this case regarding my granddaughter,” she said.
Lapham said that although he believed the evidence showed Sherman committed the more serious offense of continuous sexual assault, he “had no quarrels” with the verdict.
“I think that was certainly a reasonable verdict based on the evidence they heard,” he said. “Obviously I’m very pleased they gave him the maximum sentence allowed by law, including the fine. I think that is a strong message and a clear message.”
Sherman must serve at least 10 years of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.