Mo. father convicted of murder in incest case

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

HARRISONVILLE, Mo. – A jury on Tuesday convicted a 47-year-old man of raping his daughter and murdering one of the four children he fathered with her by not seeking medical treatment for the sick boy before he died.

The man, who is not being named by The Associated Press to protect the identity of his daughter, a sexual abuse victim, sat motionless as the verdicts were read. He was found guilty of all the charges against him, including second-degree murder, second-degree rape, two counts of incest and two counts of abandonment of a corpse.

The Cass County jury, which took just 2 1/2 hours to render its verdicts, later recommended he receive the maximum sentence for each of the counts, including life in prison for the murder charge. His sentencing is scheduled for June 7, and the judge does not have to abide by the jury’s recommendations.

Before the jury’s sentencing recommendations were read, the 20-year-old daughter the man abused tearfully read a statement to the court.

“(The defendant) made me become a mother too soon and in a way I didn’t want to be,” she said, her sobs resonating through the courtroom.

She testified during the three-day trial that her father first had sex with her when she was 5 years old. She said she gave birth to her first child, a daughter, at age 14. The girl died four months later after falling off a couch in the recreational vehicle the family lived in.

Two years later she had a son — the only one of her children who survived. A year later, she had another son, but he died after becoming ill and not receiving medical attention.

His body and that of the victim’s fourth child, a daughter who was stillborn, were found in January 2009 in coolers on a rural Harrisonville property where the family — the defendant, the victim, her mother and three sisters — lived in their RV.

Defense attorney Janeal Matheson told jurors that her client was a hardworking man who deserved leniency.

“This argument is probably the hardest argument a defense attorney has to give,” Matheson said.

During closing arguments, Matheson said the state hadn’t proven that her client was the victim’s biological father. She also argued that the state hadn’t proven the third child died of an illness, and hypothesized that he could have died of sudden infant death syndrome instead.

The defendant’s uncle, who was hooked to an oxygen tank and had to be helped into the courtroom, told jurors as he gasped for air that he and his wife drove two hours to speak in favor of him because nobody else was doing so.

“I look around this courtroom and I can’t see nobody on his side,” the uncle said. “Nobody.”

Sisters of the abuse victim declined to speak to reporters after Tuesday’s proceedings. But the defendant’s niece, Tammy Allison, 31, said family members were pleased with the verdicts.

“Everybody is happy, but in the same sense, everybody has mixed emotions,” Allison told The Associated Press. “He is their father. He is my uncle. It hurts.”

She said it was hard to watch the victim on the witness stand because of how much she struggled with memories of events she had been working for more than a year to overcome.

“After seeing her, the episodes she had, it was like all of it was coming back,” Allison said. “She has worked so hard to get through this.”

Cass County prosecutor Teresa Hensley praised the abuse victim’s courage and said she has matured a lot over the past year. The victim is scheduled to graduate from high school in May, has a job and will be going to the prom, Hensley said.

“She is a most incredible young woman,” she said. “She is truly a survivor.”