A man convicted late Tuesday of sexually abusing a child faces a mandatory life sentence after Platte County prosecutors utilized a seldom used provision of Missouri law and proved the man was a predatory sexual offender.
Fentress Maurice Wilson, 50, of Riverside was found guilty of first-degree statutory sodomy of an 8-year-old girl following a criminal trial held in two phases.
“This defendant’s victims will live with the effects of his abuse for the rest of their lives,” Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said in a prepared statement. “This verdict ensures that the defendant will also face the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life.”
In the first phase, prosecutors proved Wilson’s guilt to the jury. In the second phase, prosecutors presented testimony that Wilson had an extensive history of committing sex crimes against children. Some of the crimes occurred decades ago, prosecutors said. They got him to admit under oath that one of those crimes involved a 5-year-old girl when he was 15.
When Wilson is formally sentenced Aug. 7, Circuit Judge James Van Amburg will determine how long Wilson must serve before he becomes eligible for parole.
Under Missouri law, previous acts of abuse can be used only to increase punishment after a defendant has been found guilty. Zahnd is part of an effort to amend the Missouri Constitution to allow prosecutors in child sexual abuse cases to tell jurors about a defendant’s prior sex offenses, even allegations for which the person never faced charges.
That measure will appear on the November ballot.
Fifteen states, including Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, allow prosecutors to present evidence of past criminal acts with few or no exceptions. Federal courts also allow the evidence. Kansas and the other remaining states permit such evidence in some circumstances. Only Missouri prohibits the evidence in almost all situations.