In late March, a woman contacted the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and told them her son was raped nearly seven years ago.
The boy was 6 years old when he was raped, the woman told a sheriff’s deputy, and the sexual assault took place when the child was displaced from his home by Hurricane Gustav.
The complaint eventually led to the arrest earlier this week of a 21-year-old suspect, setting the stage for an unusual legal case involving an adult accused of committing a crime when he was still a juvenile by legal standards.
Prosecutors and juvenile law experts said similar cases are rare. Except for a handful of serious charges with long statutes of limitations — meaning the cases technically can be prosecuted even decades after the offense occurs — most crimes in Louisiana eventually become too old to prosecute after several years.
But sex offenses are a special breed.
A law passed recently by the state Legislature extended the statute of limitations for most sex offenses to thirty years after the victim turns 18. And there is no limitation for prosecuting aggravated or forcible rape.
So when Ceroid V. Wallace Jr. was arrested on Monday, accused of raping the 6-year-old boy in September 2008, it wasn’t too late for law enforcement to bring a case against him.
What made Wallace’s case especially unusual was his age. He’s 21 now, and he was only 14 years old when Hurricane Gustav arrived, about the time the boy says Wallace raped him.
Because Wallace is 21, by law, the case cannot be prosecuted in juvenile court. Had the arrest occurred a year ago, when he was 20, it could have.
Hillar Moore III, East Baton Rouge Parish’s district attorney, said Wallace’s case is under review. A decision has not been made about whether to pursue charges against him.
Wallace’s attorney, Philip J. House, said the case is troubling on several levels.
House criticized the swiftness of the Sheriff’s Office investigation and said it appeared the arrest was based solely on the allegation of abuse, which was lodged years later.
“Whatever investigation was done was opened, assigned and closed inside 24 hours,” House said. “And that’s pretty rough for something that’s on par in penalty with second-degree murder.”
House said he could not comment specifically about details of the allegations because of the pending litigation. House did say Wallace was employed in East Baton Rouge Parish at the time of his arrest.
According to the Sheriff’s Office probable cause report, the deputy quickly arranged an interview with the boy, now 12 or 13 years old, after his mother made the complaint on March 25. The boy told the deputy he was raped by Wallace in September 2008 when the hurricane struck Louisiana.
The boy said Wallace, 14 at the time, threatened him after the assault and promised to hook him up with a video game system if he never told anyone about the incident, according to the report.
With the boy’s statement in hand, the deputy drafted a warrant for the arrest of Wallace. The warrant was filed with the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk’s Office the day after the boy’s mother first reached out to the Sheriff’s Office.
The deputy “was unable to locate” Wallace prior to issuing the warrant, according to documents filed in court.
But House questioned if that was enough time to try to reach his client and get his side.
The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment for this story on Friday.
Delayed prosecutions of crimes committed when the accused was a minor occur “at least once or twice a year,” said Curtis Nelson, the parish’s chief juvenile prosecutor.
But such instances are exceedingly rare.
“There have not been many cases where an adult is charged for a crime that was committed while he was a child,” said Jacqueline Nash, a Southern University Law Center professor and director of the school’s Juvenile Law Clinic.
Anyone 17 or older is legally an adult in Louisiana. Generally, a child cannot be prosecuted as an adult if he or she is younger than 14. Depending on the crime, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds can be prosecuted as adults.
However, by law, children who commit offenses between the ages of 10 and 13 also can be prosecuted as adults if they are arrested when they are 21 or older. It’s unclear how often such cases occur or whether they occur at all.
In Wallace’s case, he was just old enough upon arrest that his case can only be prosecuted in district court.
Wallace is being held at the Parish Prison in lieu of $200,000 bail.
House on Thursday asked a judge to lower the bail. A hearing will take place in a few weeks.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Saturday, April 25, to delete inaccurate information about the potential penalty Wallace faces if he is convicted.