DeWitt man gets 99 years in prison for sexual assault of 17-month-old boy
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"It was the worst rape case I've ever seen."
DeWitt County District Attorney Michael Sheppard minced no words Monday after the sentencing of 26-year-old Charles Devon Wasserman to 99 years in prison for the aggravated sexual assault of a 17-month-old boy in 2011.
After a jury found Wasserman guilty Friday, District Judge Skipper Koetter handed down the sentence Monday.
During the trial, the jury heard evidence that Wasserman lived with the mother of the child for two to three weeks in late March and early April 2011, according to a news release from the DA's office.
During that time, the child suffered a broken arm, cigarette burns on his toes, a ruptured ear drum, cuts around his buttocks and a sexual assault that left the toddler near death, according to the news release.
Wasserman was originally arrested in May 2011 and was out of jail on bond when he was arrested again in late January 2012 after an investigation led to a second charge.
Before the case went to trial, the state offered a sentence of 25 years if Wasserman pleaded guilty, but he turned it down - against his attorney's advice, said defense attorney Tali Villafranca, of Victoria.
The trial began Feb. 26, and according to testimony during the four-day trial, on April 13, 2011, the child was treated at the Cuero Community Hospital emergency room then airlifted to Methodist Hospital in San Antonio.
During the trial, testimony from various physicians established that the child nearly died and will suffer from severe physical injuries for years to come, according to the news release.
The jury deliberations were not without drama.
Sheppard said that the judge, concerned that it was getting late, sent a note to the jury about 7 p.m. Friday, asking where it stood.
The note back from the jury indicated six members were for guilty and six for acquittal.
"Although they hadn't formally voted and were only responding to the question, we were concerned that the jury would be hung at that point," said Sheppard.
The district attorney approached Villafranca with another plea offer - 12 years.
Wasserman turned it down again.
"I thought it was a great offer. He'd already been in jail almost a year, so he would only have to do five years before he was eligible for parole," Villafranca said. "For some reason, he didn't think the jury would convict him."
About 20 minutes later, the jury did just that with a unanimous 12-0 vote.
"I was flabbergasted that my client turned both offers down," Villafranca said. "I am disappointed I was unable to persuade him to accept either offer."
After the guilty verdict by the nine-man, three-woman jury, Wasserman elected to have Koetter determine his punishment.
During the punishment hearing, Sheppard introduced additional evidence that Wasserman is also under indictment in Gonzales County for attacking a different toddler with a cattle prod, according to the news release.
Villafranca offered several character witnesses. Wassmerman's family and friends asked for a lenient sentence, according to the news release.
In announcing his sentence, Koetter told the defense witnesses that he appreciated their testimony, but they didn't know the Wasserman the victim encountered on the night of April 12, 2011, according to the news release.
"I am not surprised by the judge's ruling," Villafranca said. "The evidence was damaging. His decision to turn down the plea offer cost him 87 years."
Under Texas law, Wasserman must now serve at least 30 years before he is eligible to be considered for parole.
Sheppard said he was pleased with the outcome.
"The jury worked very hard and reached the right result. We are very grateful for what they have done for this poor child, and I truly believe that justice has been served," Sheppard said.
The district attorney also acknowledged the work of DeWitt County Sheriff's Office investigator Carl Bowen and Texas Ranger Joey Evans.
"I thought Judge Koetter's comments and sentence were absolutely correct, and we appreciate the message that he is sending with this sentence," Sheppard said. "This case has profoundly affected everyone who has been involved with it."