It took less than two hours for an Erath County jury to find Wesley Don Rhodes guilty Tuesday of sexually assaulting his daughter.
Rhodes was sentenced to 20 years confinement in the state penitentiary and will be eligible for parole in 10 years.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Cashon spoke to the jury during sentencing arguments and asked jurors to remember the victim and how she would have to deal with the assault for years to come.
Does it get any worse, when it violates not only the laws of man, but the laws of God and the laws of nature? Cashon asked.
During the trial, the defendant, dressed in dark blue denim overalls and a khaki work shirt, rocked gently back and forth in his chair as he listened to his wife, son and daughter testify against him. A muscle flexed now and then in his jaw and most of the time he looked down.
Rhodes, a Johnson County resident, was accused of sexually assaulting his natural daughter at a deer lease near Hannibal in October 2005 when she was only 14.
As the victim testified in detail about the events that occurred that day, many in the courtroom cried. She said shortly after lunch on the day she and her father arrived at the hunting lease, her dad began tickling her and holding her down and then removed her pants.
I told him to stop - that I didn't want to get pregnant, the victim said. He put on a rubber hand glove like doctors use.
It hurt really, really bad. It hurt worse than anything.
She said the abuse started when she was about 11. At first, it was innocent play, then escalated into something more sinister. During one of the play episodes she said her father held her on the floor and began removing her clothes, then assaulted her.
The victim said when she was home alone with her dad he would get into the shower with her and assault her there.
I knew it wasn't right, but I didn't know what to do, the victim said.
She said she was scared to tell because she was afraid of her family's reaction.
Finally, she confided in her boyfriend at the time, who then tried to persuade her to tell. The victim's mother, Angela Rhodes, began to suspect that something was wrong after reading text messages between her daughter and the boyfriend.
She then asked what was going on, and that's when the victim finally told her mother.
She was very, very shocked, the victim said. It felt good to tell somebody but I was really, really scared.
When District Attorney John Terrill asked how she felt about her dad, she said, I feel I want a dad but I know I don't have one. I'm hurt from it.
Rhodes took the stand in his own defense, telling the jury that his daughter, wife and son were all lying.
I love my daughter and I still do, he said.
Rhodes' brother and nephew testified on his behalf, telling the jury they didn't believe the allegations against him. They were also at the deer lease the weekend she was assaulted and stated she was happy and not avoiding her dad at all. In fact, they said, she was upset when her dad told her she could not come along the next weekend for the regular opening of deer season.
I couldn't believe it, because she always wanted to be with him and everything else, Brett Rhodes, his nephew, said.
Terrill said he felt the sentence was fair based on the evidence.
More charges against Rhodes are pending in Johnson County, according to Terrill.
ANGELIA JOINER is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com or 254-965-3124, ext. 238.