Deep into a multistate rampage of robbery and kidnapping, Robert C. Caldwell got it wrong when he told a police officer, “I’m not going to prison.”
A federal judge in Kansas City saw to that Thursday when she sentenced Caldwell to 45 years with no chance of parole for the January 2015 robbery, carjacking and kidnapping of a 67-year-old south Kansas City man, who was savagely beaten during the ordeal.
Caldwell, 26, a resident of Kentucky, pleaded guilty in February in U.S. District Court in Kansas City to charges of kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, carjacking, using a firearm during a crime of violence and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The victim of what U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson called a “seven-hour nightmare” told the judge Thursday he was sure he was going to be killed during the ordeal, which only ended when he got the gun away from his kidnappers and escaped.
He was beaten multiple times by his abductors, some of his teeth were broken when they shoved a gun in his mouth and he was denied any food, water or bathroom breaks during the incident.
But the worst part was when the kidnappers told him an accomplice had killed his wife after they kidnapped him.
It was a lie, but he didn’t know it until after he got away.
“She was everything to me,” he told U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips.
Dickinson asked the judge to sentence Caldwell to life in prison, noting that he began his criminal career as a juvenile when he robbed seven victims in a 24-hour period.
“The only job he’s ever really held is to rob and steal from other people,” she said.
During her argument, Dickinson played a recording of Caldwell’s confession, in which he said he should have killed the victim so he wouldn’t have been caught.
She praised the victim’s heroism in fighting back and getting away.
“He had to fight for his life or he was going to lose it,” she said. “If he (Caldwell) gets out, the next victim will not be as strong, determined or heroic.”
Caldwell’s attorney, assistant federal public defender Robert Kuchar, argued for a sentence of 22 years.
A life sentence would be called for in a murder case or someone who commits repeated violent crimes over a long period of time, he said.
“He is entitled to part of his life,” Kuchar said.
Before he was sentenced, Caldwell told the judge that he accepted full responsibility for what he did and was ready to accept the consequences, but he asked her to have mercy on him.
He also apologized to the victim and said he hoped he could now find closure.
“Sir, I’m truly sorry for the hurt and pain I’ve caused you and your family,” he said.
According to court documents filed in Caldwell’s case, he and a teenage accomplice stole a truck in Kentucky and came to Missouri with the intention of robbing a drug dealer in St. Joseph.
That plan fell through, and they ended up in the Kansas City area, where they burglarized several cars and eluded police in a chase.
After abandoning the truck early on the the morning of Jan. 22, 2015, they confronted the 67-year-old man at gunpoint outside his south Kansas City home.
They beat and robbed the man and forced him into his van. They drove to different ATMs in an attempt to get cash, but the man could not remember his PIN.
The kidnappers tied the man’s hands and covered him with a blanket as they started driving east on Interstate 70. Along the way, they made numerous stops and used the man’s credit cards.
After the abductors parked at a rest stop and fell asleep, the victim freed his hands. He picked up a weight and struck the assailants in an escape attempt. It didn’t work and they subsequently beat him.
The victim pretended to be unconscious. They were driving in suburban St. Louis when one of the kidnappers set his gun down. The victim grabbed it and was able to escape.
Caldwell and his accomplice continued driving east and robbed a woman in Indiana.
They drove back to Kentucky, where the accomplice was dropped off. Still driving the Kansas City man’s stolen van, Caldwell got in a crash, then stole another car.
Caldwell later kidnapped a 13-year-old, whom he dropped off a few miles away.
He ended up in another police chase that ended with his arrest when he crashed the stolen vehicle into a creek.
The co-defendant, De’zahn James Carey, who was 17 at the time, is charged in Jackson County Circuit Court with kidnapping, first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and armed criminal action. A trial in his case is scheduled for Aug. 29.