GONZALES — A Raceland man faces two mandatory life sentences after an Ascension Parish jury convicted him Wednesday in the sexual abuse of two girls that began when they were barely old enough to be in elementary school and ended in their rapes during their preteen and teen years.
Jurors found Edward “Tuffy” Caldwell, 51, 130 Williams St., Raceland, guilty of two counts of aggravated rape and one count of molestation of a juvenile after 40 minutes of deliberation, prosecutors said Thursday.
Caldwell had previously been convicted of carnal knowledge of a juvenile with the girls’ mother in the late 1990s when she was 14, 23rd Judicial District prosecutors said.
Assistant District Attorney Joni Buquoi said Thursday that Caldwell served his sentence for that conviction and was later released.
Judge Thomas Kliebert Jr. of the 23rd Judicial District, who presided over the trial this week, set Caldwell’s sentencing for Jan. 26 after the completion of a pre-sentence investigation. The judicial district encompasses Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes.
Aggravated rape brings a mandatory life sentence in Louisiana.
During the day-and-a-half trial at the Ascension Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales, the girls — who prosecutors say live in Ascension Parish — testified that Caldwell began to abuse them when they were 6 to 8 years old and living in different parishes.
According to prosecutors, the girls testified the abuse worsened as they got older and Caldwell began to rape them when they turned 12. The girls said they were terrified of Caldwell, who also physically abused their mother. The girls testified she was not able to protect them from him, prosecutors said.
Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested Caldwell on Jan. 14 after a complaint was made in July 2013 over abuse that dated back to February 2012, prosecutors said.
Caldwell took the stand Wednesday in his own defense and denied the allegations, his defense attorney Ronald Haley Jr. said. Caldwell also disputed the claims during cross-examination, saying the accusations were the result of a misunderstanding.
The mother of the girls testified on Caldwell’s behalf. Haley said she claimed that she never saw anything happen between Caldwell and the girls, but that she could not be 100 percent sure nothing happened.
“Based on the verdict, I believe the jury did not find the defendant’s testimony credible and believed the victims,” said Buquoi, who prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney Shawn Bush.
Neither prosecutors nor Haley asked to poll the 12-person jury so it’s not clear how many actually found Caldwell guilty, but at least 10 had to have found him guilty to return the verdict reached Wednesday afternoon.
“Now’s the time, I hope, the family can get a chance to heal,” Haley said Thursday.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.