Details in alleged sex-slave case discussed
A woman’s story about being chained up for months in a Gateway home and used as a sex slave by the owner is backed up by the chains and padlocks investigators found there, along with DNA evidence from both her and her accused attacker, among other evidence, prosecutors said.
But defense attorneys for Claude Lee “Chay” Wilkerson questioned the woman’s credibility Friday, arguing that a teenage girl who also lived in the Gateway house claimed that she never personally saw anything sexual between Wilkerson and the woman.
Wilkerson, a 62-year-old former Texas death row inmate who lived at 451 Foy Road in Gateway, was arrested in February after the teen told authorities she had helped him tie up a homeless woman at his home, and that Wilkerson threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone about it. Mesa County District Judge Lance Timbreza on Friday presided over a hearing to show probable cause in Wilkerson’s case.
The woman told law enforcement she was homeless and met Wilkerson in October, and that he offered to let her stay with him and agreed to pay her to do yard work and help clean his home, but never actually gave her money.
She said a young girl who had run away from home had been staying with Wilkerson before she arrived.
One day shortly after she arrived at the house, the woman said the teen approached her from behind and covered her mouth and nose with a rag soaked with diesel engine cleaner while Wilkerson tried to wrap her feet with a wire.
When she kicked out of the wire, Wilkerson grabbed a tow chain, wrapped it around her legs and secured it with a padlock, then secured the chain to the leg of a bed, according to the affidavit for Wilkerson’s arrest.
For the next several months, the woman said she was chained regularly, sometimes to a bed in the house, sometimes with her hands behind her back, sometimes with her hands in front of her, according to testimony Friday from Mesa County Sheriff’s Investigator Danny Norris.
The woman told investigators she was sexually assaulted by Wilkerson on an almost daily basis for several months, “on average twice a day,” sometimes while she was chained or forced into “uncomfortable” positions.
Sometimes Wilkerson would use sex as a “punishment” if she refused to shower or do other things he asked her to do, Norris said, recounting the woman’s interview with law enforcement.
“Initially she was required to remain nude and had to ‘earn’ her clothing every day,” Norris said.
Norris testified during the hearing that deputies found padlocks and chains in Wilkerson’s home with his DNA on them. A lubricant bottle that the victim described was also found with his DNA on it, and the victim’s own DNA was found on a comforter, he said.
During cross-examination by public defender Scott Troxell, Norris said he couldn’t remember details of interviews when Troxell said the teenage runaway at the house told law enforcement she had never seen the woman fully naked.
The teen also said she never witnessed any sexual acts between the woman and Wilkerson, according to Troxell.
Troxell pointed out that one man interviewed by authorities claimed to have seen the victim in Wilkerson’s home in early December, and said it didn’t appear to him that she was being held against her will.
Troxell also said there were times when the woman wasn’t chained and that she accompanied Wilkerson to a store in Gateway and wasn’t restrained.
Mesa County Chief Deputy District Attorney David Waite said by the time opportunities to escape arose, the woman was too afraid to try to flee.
“She in fact had a couple opportunities to get out of this situation,” Waite said. “(But) then she was scared. By then she had been restrained with chains and locks.”
Troxell also raised the possibility that Wilkerson and the woman were actually in a relationship before the initial alleged attack in October. Troxell pointed to a report Wilkerson made to law enforcement on Oct. 26, 2015, claiming that the victim had stolen jewelry from him when the two were in “an intimate relationship.”
Norris closed the case from Wilkerson’s report as unfounded in August, after finding several pieces of the allegedly stolen jewelry during a search of Wilkerson’s house.
The theft report wasn’t the only piece of evidence that pointed to a pre-existing relationship. Troxell said Mesa County Department of Human Services case workers were aware of some relationship between Wilkerson and the victim.
Case workers working with the victim on a dependency and neglect case in connection with her child reportedly spoke to Wilkerson while considering the child’s custody.
Troxell didn’t spell out Wilkerson’s relationship to the case, but said there was some “discussion” that Wilkerson was helping the woman get to her court dates, but that other people believed he was helping her set up a place to live with her daughter at his Gateway home.
Waite told Timbreza that Wilkerson, whose conviction and death sentence for the murder of someone killed during a Texas jewelry store robbery in 1979 was overturned on appeal, faces significant evidence against him.
“I think it’s pretty clear that there’s more than sufficient evidence” to take the case before a jury, Waite said.
Troxell said the victim’s account “strains credibility” considering the teenager reported never seeing sexual activity.
Wilkerson is due to return to court Wednesday afternoon for a hearing where his attorneys will argue his bond. Timbreza said he might have a decision on the probable cause hearing by Wednesday.
Waite said Friday in court that the defense has already rejected an offer his office made them, although he didn’t elaborate on what the offer was. Waite said the offer for Wilkerson is now “off the table.”