Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Encounters | An occasional feature

When family defends father who molested daughters, judge steps in with outrage

TAMPA — Each day, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe takes in the unabridged horrors of Hillsborough County's worst sex crime and child abuse cases.

He hears the fantasies of pedophiles, the nightmares of women and the screams of children raped in kiddie porn videos.

He often contains his outrage. But not always. Some things, he believes, shouldn't go unsaid.

• • •

On a routine morning last week, 35 defendants stood before him, some for quick case updates, others to learn their sentences.

Then came number 36.

A father had fondled his two girls, starting when each was 12. Now, they were young women.

The family's behavior troubled Tharpe. The victims and their mother had asked prosecutors to drop the charge. They didn't want to lose the father to prison.

Prosecutors offered a plea deal. At most, he would be sent away for five years. Now, Tharpe had to decide whether to order the maximum.

The entire family showed up to ask for probation, including the girls' younger brother, 13. The mother said the boy came to support his dad. Tharpe thought she should have known better than to expose her son to this scene.

The woman spoke:

"We have so much we're going to lose — a four-bedroom home, animals that I can't take with me. We've had over a year of not being together as a family, no holidays, no birthdays.

"I love my husband and I love my kids.

"I'm just stuck in the middle."

This man had molested their two girls for years, touching their breasts, going further with one, telling one to relax, according to a police report, after she told him to stop.

Tharpe wondered: Where was her sense of outrage?

• • •

The courtroom was silent as Tharpe cleared his throat.

"I am appalled," he told the mother, "that you don't take your children's interests first. … I can't believe that you didn't go to him and say 'How dare you? Who do you think you are? What kind of father are you?' "

Tharpe was left to do that, and so his eyes drilled into the man.

"You," he said, "should be ashamed of yourself."

"I am sorry," the father said.

"Then why don't you tell me about it?" the judge said, folding his arms. "Tell me what you want to say to keep you out of prison."

"Well, sir. I'm at a loss for words," the father said.

"Why would you do that to your daughters?" Tharpe asked. "You did it because you're twisted. You're sick."

"I don't disagree," the man said. "I'll go get counseling. I'm not a …"

"You're not a what?" Tharpe asked. "A pedophile? Oh, yeah you are. You're a pedophile. Yeah, you are. You're a sexual offender. … You've admitted to two lewd and lascivious molestations. Oh, yeah you are. You're going to be registered from now on. You're going to report from now on. Your face is going to be on the Internet. Oh, yeah, absolutely."

Tharpe told the father he deserved prison but sentenced him to 25 years of probation. The man, 43, will be 68 when it ends. He can't be alone with other people's kids. If he fails to follow the rules — including a curfew, treatment and polygraph tests — he could get locked up.

• • •

Tharpe asked the 18-year-old victim to stand up. He wanted to ask her something.

"Do you feel like any of this is your fault?" Tharpe asked. "Do you feel guilty because your dad is here in the courtroom?"

The teen tucked her thumbs into the back pockets of her jeans and nodded. A victim's advocate slid over a box of tissues.

"You know," Tharpe told her, "it's not your fault. You didn't cause this, and you don't need to feel guilty about it. Okay?"

She listened.

He watched her return to her family.

"Good luck," he told her.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

About this series

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of it. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2924.

When family defends father who molested daughters, judge steps in with outrage 10/26/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 8:04am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'There's nothing left': $253,000 worth of missing pianos stirs outrage

    Crime

    Lisa Williams was going through a messy divorce. Money was tight. She had to move to a smaller house, but there was no room for the beloved Schimmel baby grand piano she bought for her daughter two decades ago.

    Lisa Williams of Pinellas Park is one of several people who had their pianos stolen, and then lost the money they were supposed to get for them. Largo police are saying they were ripped off through a scheme run by the owner of a defunct piano shop in Clearwater.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  2. Lifestyle changes to stave off Alzheimer's? Hints, no proof

    Health

    WASHINGTON — There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer's, but a new report raises the prospect that avoiding nine key risks starting in childhood just might delay or even prevent about a third of dementia cases around the world.

    In this Oct. 7, 2003, file photo, a section of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease is on display at the Museum of Neuroanatomy at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, N.Y. There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer's, but a new report raises the prospect that avoiding nine risks starting in childhood just might delay or even prevent about a third of dementia cases. [AP Photo/David Duprey, File]
  3. City Attorney: State won't pursue criminal charges in St. Pete's sewage crisis

    Blogs

    The St. Petersburg City Council is expected to approve a consent order later today that requires the city to spend $326 million on improving its sewer system.

    St. Petersburg's sewage crisis appears to be winding down
  4. Review: 'A Really Big Lunch' a fitting last supper from Jim Harrison

    Books

    As much as I loved Jim Harrison's fiction and poetry, I've always had a special affection for his food writing. Boisterous and erudite and opinionated and wildly sensual, it always seemed his most personal writing, slipping the veil of fiction and the rigor of poems, and rippling with humor.

  5. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposes $974 million budget for 2018

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn today proposed a $974.2 million budget for next year that would raise the city's property tax rate for the first time since 1989 and use the additional revenue to improve parks, expand fire service and prepare for looming financial challenges in the years ahead.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn presented his proposed $974.2 million budget for 2018 to the City Council on Thursday. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times (2016)