CROWN POINT — A Lake Criminal Court judge told a Gary child molester Monday he was a horrible person and his plea agreement would be accepted only because it spared his victim and her mother the trauma of testifying.
Clifton J. Thomas, 40, pleaded guilty in April to a reduced charge of child molesting, a level 3 felony, and agreed to a maximum 16-year sentence.
He initially was charged in April 2019 with four counts of child molesting as a level 1 felony, which carries a longer possible sentence.
Judge Salvador Vasquez said the only reason he was accepting Thomas' plea agreement was because it was what the state wanted.
"You took advantage of a child," the judge said. "You are a horrible person. You really are. You are a predator and a horrible person."
Thomas declined to make a statement on his own behalf.
Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Tara Villarreal said Thomas likely will have to register as a sex offender for life.
Thomas was arrested after the girl's mother returned to their Gary home unexpectedly in April 2019 and walked in on him raping her 12-year-old daughter, Lake Criminal Court records state.
The girl's mother read a statement written by the girl, who said Thomas robbed her of her innocence.
"While you go on living your life, I've been living in a prison in my head," the girl wrote.
She said she now understands the sexual abuse Thomas inflicted on her was not her fault, because he was an adult and she was a child.
"We both know the things you did to a child," she wrote. "I'm passing the shame and pain back to you. I have nothing more to hide."
The girl's mother said she wanted to die when she first learned Thomas had been sexually abusing her daughter.
She thought of herself as her child's first line of defense, and she felt like she had dropped the ball, she said. She was not aware of the abuse until she caught Thomas in the act, she said.
"I had this despicable, nasty person around my daughter," she said. "Who would do something like this to a child?"
Despite the trauma, her daughter is strong, she said.
"My heart still breaks when I think of all the suffering my daughter went through because of you," she said.
Defense attorney Ben Murphy asked Vasquez to accept Thomas' plea agreement. In addition allowing the victim to avoid testifying, the defense never took her deposition, he said.
Thomas must serve at least 75% of his sentence.
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