The mother of two girls raped by a Yakima County man said she worked so hard to protect her kids and teach them about good touch and bad touch, but she never expected someone she trusted to undermine everything.
Michael R. Caldwell took advantage of her “precious babies” and, though they’re trying to rebuild their lives, they never can get back their stolen childhood innocence, she told a judge.
“He took the spark from their eyes, and I hope that one day they get it back,” said the mother, asking that Caldwell never see the outside of a prison again. “You do not abuse, hurt, lie or traumatize the people you love. ... We will never be the same again.”
Judge Cameron Mitchell acknowledged that there is nothing he can do to provide justice to the two grade-school girls.
So instead, the Benton County Superior Court judge said he had to think about the safety of the community, proper punishment and rehabilitation, and said he hopes Caldwell will get treatment while locked up for a mandatory minimum of 26 1/2 years.
“I wish there were something I could do to make things right, but there is not,” Mitchell said during Caldwell’s recent sentencing hearing. “I’d like to say I’m very sorry to these two young ladies and their families for everything they’ve been through. I hope they can at some point move forward and have the happy life that they’re entitled to.”
Caldwell, 33, pleaded guilty Oct. 2 to two counts each of first-degree rape of a child and first-degree child molestation.
He agreed to the recommended prison term, which includes a life sentence.
That means after Caldwell does the minimum time, his case will go before the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board to decide if he’s successfully completed treatment while behind bars and no longer poses a threat to society. His ultimate release is up to the board.
Caldwell’s plea had been part of a deal to spare the two girls from having to testify in trials in the three separate counties where the sexual assaults occurred. Deputy Prosecutor Anita Petra said the girls’ parents supported the plea agreement.
Caldwell was charged with rape of a child and child molestation for one of the girls in Yakima County Superior Court. That case was dismissed, and he agreed to let those charges be combined with the others in Benton County.
Also, Franklin County prosecutors said they would not be filing charges with the global resolution.
“At the beginning of this case, some cases deserve no offer and that’s how I felt,” Petra told the court. “But the reality of putting these girls through three trials we had to address.”
Petra said the maximum life sentence is appropriate based on the impact the crimes have had on the family and the fact that Caldwell abused a trust relationship and took advantage of his access to the young girls.
“It is horrific. ... It’s extremely predatory behavior,” she said.
The mother learned about one of her daughters in November 2013 when the girl disclosed being touched inappropriately but wouldn’t share further details. The girl then opened up to a victim advocate and said she had felt scared and wasn’t supposed to tell her mom, court documents said.
Caldwell was being held in the Yakima County jail on other matters in early December when he was contacted by law enforcement about the molestation. He admitted everything involving that girl, then revealed that he also had sexually assaulted a second girl, documents said.
Caldwell told detectives he had known in the back of his head it wasn’t right, but he also blamed one of the young girls for wanting to do things with him, according to his presentencing report.
Earlier this month, he told a community corrections officer for the report that he has no excuse for his actions and will spend the rest of his life trying to make it right. Yet, when asked if he felt he was a sex offender, Caldwell reportedly answered with a very emphatic “No.”
In court for sentencing, Caldwell cried as he briefly apologized to the girls and both their families and his own.
The parents, in letters that were read to the court by Petra, said they felt sad, betrayed and devastated at Caldwell’s selfish and deplorable acts. The mother said he caused so much fear in her girls that even a year later they‘re still having nightmares and are on edge.
“We never deserved to have this done to us,” the mother wrote. “Michael Caldwell disgusts me to my very core. I hate him and I will never forgive him for what he has done.”
Caldwell has been ordered to have no contact with either girl for the rest of his life.