A Riverside, Mo. man will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for molesting an eight-year-old girl.
On Sept. 4, Platte County judge James Van Amburg sentenced Fentress Maurice Wilson, 50, to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of statutory sodomy in June. he received life because prosecutors proved that he had previously molested three other girls. Wilson will not be eligible for parole until 2052. “The eight-year-old victim in this case showed unbelievable courage by telling the jury what the defendant did to her,” Platte County prosecutor Eric Zahnd said in a statement. “But if we were allowed to tell the full truth about his decades of abusing other children, the defendant almost certainly would not have tried his luck with a jury.” Wilson’s trial was held in two stages. In the first, prosecutors proved Wilson had sexually abused the eight-year old girl. In the second, they showed cause for the defendant being a predatory sexual offender because he had abused the child more than once and had abused more than one child. A little-used provision of Missouri law mandates a life sentence for predatory sexual offenders. The victim’s grandmother testified that she caught Wilson with his hand down the back of the victim’s underwear, in an act of apparent sexual abuse. The victim told the jury that the defendant had subjected her to various forms of sexual abuse for months. Prosecutors also played a recording of a call made by the defendant from the Platte County Jail in which he discussed the child’s allegations and admitted, “It did happen.” During the second stage of the trial, three more of the defendant’s victims testified and described sexual abuse dating back decades. In an unusual move, the defendant took the stand in the second stage of the trial. Under cross-examination from Plate County assistant prosecuting attorney Chris Seufert, Wilson admitted that he had been sexually inappropriate with a five-year-old girl when he was 15. In an interview with 41 Action News, one of Wilson’s earlier victims said, “He’s been doing this since the 70s — getting away with molesting children and raping them as well.” Although prosecutors knew about Wilson’s abuse of other victims, the jury was not allowed to know that Wilson had abused them until after he was found guilty. Under current Missouri law, prior acts of abuse can only be used to increase punishment after a defendant has been found guilty. “It is heartbreaking that the law currently prevents a jury from knowing a sexual predator has previously abused children when determining guilt,” Zahnd said in a previous statement. “No child should have to stand up to a serial sexual predator alone.” Zahnd chairs the committee pushing an amendment to Missouri’s Constitution that would allow juries to know that a defendant has committed offenses in the past. That amendment is on the ballot in November. “I hope every Missourian who cares about children will vote for this constitutional amendment,” Zahnd said. “It is the most important thing we can do to safeguard children from the most dangerous, repeat sexual predators.”