Eighth District Judge Eddie Northcutt sentenced 23-year-old Stephen Waters to 27 years in prison Wednesday after he entered a plea of guilty to a charge of continuous sexual abuse of 7-year-old girl.
Waters had been accused of committing the offense over a period of months while being trusted to babysit a friend's two young daughters.
According to District Attorney Will Ramsay, Waters had been out on bond pending trial and, in April, had pled guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault of a child and agreed to a 30-year prison sentence. Under terms of the agreement, Waters would have been eligible for parole after 15 years.
After the guilty plea was accepted, Waters continued to be on bond for a 30-day period while awaiting sentencing in May.
Ramsay said the 23-year-old gave numerous “bogus excuses” to the court and failed to appear for sentencing. When Waters failed to appear, it became apparent he was running from the law in an attempt to avoid being sent to prison.
The man was arrested in late May by the U.S. Marshal's Service at a motel in Abilene, near his hometown of Stamford, about 45 miles away.
The federal officers were searching for another wanted person when they encountered Stephen Waters.
"I was so thankful and relieved when I received the phone call from the marshal stating that he had Waters in custody,” the district attorney said. “We were able to let the victim's family know that he would be brought back to Hopkins County to answer for what he had done. Obviously, we requested that Judge Northcutt reject the prior plea agreement and allow us to try the case. The judge obliged. We also filed a bail jumping case on Mr. Waters, which was a separate third-degree felony."
Waters was then re-indicted on the original charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child, an offense that has a punishment range of 25 years to life with no parole, and a jury trial was set for the first week in August.
Earlier this week, Ramsay said his office was contacted by William Howard McDowell, the attorney representing Waters, with another possible plea agreement, which the district attorney felt the victim and her family would accept.
“We all decided that the agreement of 27 years on a continuous charge was acceptable,” Ramsay said. “On this type of case, 27 years means 27 calendar years with no parole. The defendant will spend more time in prison than he has been alive. Now, this little girl would not have to testify."
With the plea set for Wednesday afternoon, Ramsay said the defense attorney notified him that there was “no deal,” that Waters had backed out of the plea agreement.
When the case was called Wednesday afternoon, the district attorney had some words for Waters.
"I was able to explain to him at the bench that this would be the last day I would ever consider the possibility of any agreement,” Ramsay said. “He had yanked this family around for long enough."
Waters then decided to honor the plea agreement that had been discussed and was sentenced to serve 27 years in prison on the sexual assault charge and 10 years on a bail jumping charge.
"I believe that we are able to obtain plea agreements of this magnitude due to the hard work and the verdicts received in Hopkins County over the past year and a half,” Ramsay said. “The fact that juries hand down strong sentences on child abusers allows us to resolve cases appropriately in this manner without subjecting the child to a trial."
After sentencing had been pronounced by Northcutt, the mother of the victim took the stand to deliver a victim impact statement and told Waters how he had changed their lives forever.
She told Waters that he had been trusted with the most important things in their lives and he had done the worst.
The child's mother then read a note written by the 7-year-old victim: “You hurt me. But, you did not break me."
Waters will be held in Hopkins County jail until he can be transported to the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.