A Tampa man was sentenced to life in prison Monday for molesting and sexually battering a 10-year-old girl before dousing her in bleach in an attempt to destroy evidence.
Lewis Matthews, 43, was found guilty of four separate felonies after a three-day trial earlier this month. Judge Kimberly Fernandez imposed a life sentence for sexual battery on a victim younger than 12, plus an additional five years in prison for tampering with physical evidence and 25 years each for two felony charges of lewd or lascivious molestation of a victim younger than 12.
“It’s heartbreaking to sit in court and watch a victim, who has been sexually abused by someone who is supposed to be caring for her, testify on the stand,” Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement. ”That’s why I’m so proud of the work that our prosecutors do to hold these offenders accountable, stand up for the victims, and send these predators away for life.”
According to Warren’s office, the 10-year-old told investigators and, later, a courtroom about the night she fell asleep on her living room floor while her mother’s boyfriend was visiting.
At about 3:30 a.m. on April 13, 2019, the girl said Matthews woke her up, undressed her and molested her. He was interrupted when her mother, Matthews’ girlfriend, heard a noise and came downstairs. She was “stunned by what she discovered,” prosecutors said, and quickly dialed 911.
While she was still on the phone, Matthews quickly grabbed the girl and two other children living in the home and put them in the car. As their mother screamed at them not to go with Matthews, he drove toward a nearby gas station, prosecutors said.
Matthews took the girl inside the store, grabbed a bottle of Clorox bleach off a shelf and took her into the store’s bathroom, prosecutors said. Then, he ordered the girl to remove her clothing and doused her in bleach. Still, investigators were able to recover traces of Matthews’ DNA on the girl’s body, clothing, and on the bleach-stained underwear Matthews made her throw away in the gas station’s dumpster.
A jury found Matthews guilty on four felony charges. Few words were spoken during the sentencing hearing. No friends or family showed up to speak on his behalf, nor of the victim.
“Parents who are sexually abusing kids in their custody—it makes your blood boil,” Warren said. “That’s why we’re aggressively prosecuting cases like these. And that’s why these people deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison.”