Man gets life without parole in Bowie County child sex abuse case

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NEW BOSTON, Texas: A serial sexual offender received an automatic sentence of life without parole Wednesday after being convicted of the continuous sexual abuse of a child by a Bowie County jury.

Rickey Willis, 55, was found guilty of repeatedly assaulting the daughter of a former girlfriend in 2016 and 2017 at residences in Texarkana, Texas, and New Boston. Continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14 is punishable by 25 to 99 years or life and there is no parole from a sentence imposed for the crime. Because Willis had a prior 1991 felony conviction in Miller County, Ark., for first-degree sexual abuse, the punihsment was enhanced and 202nd District Judge John Tidwell assessed an automatic term of life without parole.

The victim, 11, testified that she was 9 when Willis began molesting her. The girl said she told her mother but that her mother told her to “Stay away from Rickey,” and “Give him another chance.” The abuse came to light in May 2017 when the girl’s mother took her to the doctor because of a vaginal infection.

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Medical staff made a report to Child Protective Services after the girl told them she’d been sexually abused. Johnny Millwood of the New Boston Police Department testified that he pursued charges against Willis and the girl’s mother after watching the girl undergo a forensic interview at the Texarkana Children’s Advocacy Center via closed circuit television.

The victim’s mother testified she is currently serving a term of probation for the misdemeanor offense of failure to report a felony.

The jury heard testimony concerning the circumstances of Willis’ 1991 conviction as well. A witness who was 11 in 1990 said she caught Willis engaged in misconduct with her cousin, who was 2 or 3 years old in 1990. The witness testiifed that Willis had the girl’s panties pulled down and his own pants pulled down when she surprised him.

Willis was sentenced to eight years in prison in 1991 as part of a plea bargain.

A 16-year-old girl who is related to Willis by marriage testified that when she visited relatives in Texarkana in the summer as a child, Willis sexually assaulted her. The girl said she was 5 when the abuse began and in sixth or seventh grade when it stopped. The girl said that since she gained the courage to tell her mother, reports have been made to law enforcement and she has begun counseling.

Under direct examination by Texarkana defense attorney Bart Craytor, Willis denied the allegations and claimed family members were angry with him because of an unrelated matter.

Under cross examination by First Assistant District Attorney Michael Shepherd, Willis called the victims “liars” and denied his guilt in the 1991 case.

Shepherd and Assistant District Attorney Katie Carter described Willis as a dangerous sexual predator of children.

“Sexual assaults don’t occur in public. They happen behind closed doors or when everybody else is asleep,” Carter said. “And he’s been at this for 28 years.”

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