BY PETER JAMISON
Times Staff Writer
LARGO — It has been 18 years since Henry Keith Cavaliere was first accused of inappropriately touching a young girl. During that time he ran a Clearwater contracting business, was divorced and remarried and divorced again, and avoided spending time in prison despite five arrests on suspicion of sex crimes involving children.
The next 18 years, and whatever life remains after that for Cavaliere, will be different.
A judge on Monday sentenced Cavaliere, 49, to life in prison without possibility of parole, following his conviction in March on a felony charge of lewd and lascivious molestation.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Michael Andrews' order came after statements from women who said Cavaliere had damaged their lives and families.
The case against Cavaliere was based on the accusations of a Palm Harbor girl, now 12 years old, who said he molested her during a sleepover at his house when she was 7. Yet the trial exposed a history of similar allegations, after the judge allowed two adult women to testify they had been victimized by him as children.
One of them, a 24-year-old Largo resident who now has children of her own, said Cavaliere molested her when she was 6 during a trip to Disney World. Cavaliere was arrested after the woman's mother told police in 1995, but he negotiated a deal with Orange County prosecutors, pleading no contest to a reduced charge of misdemeanor battery.
"You stole my innocence from me when I was such a small child," the woman said Monday, sobbing as she addressed Cavaliere and the court before sentencing. "You disgust me, and I do not feel sorry for you. I only wish I had the strength to do this 20 years ago."
The Tampa Bay Times is not identifying the Largo woman, or Cavaliere's 12-year-old victim from Palm Harbor, because of the nature of the case.
Pinellas County Sheriff's Office victim advocate Bobbie Hodson read a statement from the mother of the Palm Harbor girl. "I will always have to live with the guilt that you did this to my child, and that I and we trusted you," the statement read. "I hope you rot in prison."
During the victims' statements, Cavaliere stood beside his defense attorneys with his head bowed, expressionless. A powerfully built man, he stood with his legs spaced apart, as if bracing for a shock. In the months since his conviction he had grown a beard. Unlike his dark head of hair, it was streaked with white.
"Mr. Cavaliere, sir," Andrews said after the statements, gazing at Cavaliere, "if you want to be heard, I'd be inclined to listen."
Cavaliere did not look up. "No, sir," he said.
Cavaliere was calm as bailiffs led him out of the courtroom. Waiting to be fingerprinted, he raised one hand to wipe his eyes.
Andrew Crawford, one of Cavaliere's lawyers, said his family members had written letters to the court on his behalf. None of them appeared in court. Crawford said they lived out of state.
Under state law, Andrews could not have sentenced Cavaliere to under 25 years in prison. Yet after the hearing, the 24-year-old Largo woman said only the life sentence handed down by the judge, and its built-in assurance that Cavaliere will never be free to harm another child, would have sufficed.
"He's done this to too many people, and he kept getting off. He doesn't get punished, and this time he did," she said.
"He deserved what he got."