A Belleville father said justice was finally served this month after a man was sentenced to 180 years in prison for sexually assaulting and abusing his adopted daughter for two years.
“We’ve spent five and a half years waiting for justice to be served in this case,” her father, Johnny Kicklighter, said Monday. “We’re very relieved.”
Raymond Morris, 49, was sentenced in Wayne County on March 9 for sexually assaulting the then-10-year-old girl from 2010 to 2012 in Fairfield.
Morris’ defense attorney Justin Kuehn argued for a total of 36 years in prison while special prosecutor Lorinda Lamken asked the judge to give Morris 20 years on each count, according to the Wayne County Press. Instead, Judge Barry L. Vaughan handed Morris 180 years in prison for what he called “the torture” of the child.
Keuhn was unavailable to comment on this case.
Kicklighter and his wife took custody of the girl in 2014 — she is now 18-years-old. Kicklighter said she is still impacted by Morris' abuse every day.
“He had what he called a ‘flogging stick’ he would beat her with. He whipped her with a vacuum cord that left scars that are still there today,” Kicklighter said. “In 2014, I noticed she was limping when we were on a walk and she said he 'hit my knee with a cane and it still hurts.’”
The Wayne County Press reported that Morris would force the child to watch pornography and sexually assaulted her over the course of two years. He would not let her communicate with family she still had in Tennessee and refused to let her attend her brother’s funeral when he was killed in a car crash.
In 2012, she was able to escape from Morris' house, contact members of her church and run to the police station. Shortly after, Morris was arrested and charged with criminal sexual assault of a child.
Kicklighter said the six counts of assault could "easily have been 100 counts" since the abuse was almost constant over a two year period.
“This crime was so tortuous, it was pretty heinous,” Kicklighter said. “The judge referred to it as 'torture' three times."
Prosecutor Lamken said she asked the judge for 20 years per count because she knew "even if [Morris] had gotten the minimum, it would have been a life sentence."
"The judge felt this crime warranted [the sentence]," she said. "It's a message to not only the defendant himself but also the community about the abuse of children."
While he was charged in 2012, Morris switched attorneys four times and “couldn’t decide whether to take a plea deal or not,” Kicklighter said, causing the trial to drag on.
Kicklighter said he thought it was ironic that if Morris had taken a plea deal in 2012, “he would have done his time and been out by now.”
Instead, Morris was sentenced to 30 years on each count of sexual assault, adding up to 65,700 days total.
"The judge was compelled judicially and emotionally to give him the maximum sentence," Kicklighter said.
Kicklighter said the trial was emotional, especially when he read his personal victim impact statement in court.
“She read the victim impact statement and was very business-like and professional,” he said. “I got up and had to read my statement and I told the prosecutor, ‘I am going to break down a little bit.’”
Kicklighter said his adopted daughter is still impacted by the abuse she suffered. In her statement in court, she detailed how she has nightmares and acute anxiety and an inability to develop intimate relationships with others, including her foster parents.
Lamken said the woman discussed how the abuse affected her self-esteem and distanced her from her family in Tennessee, who she was only allowed to talk to on the phone once over the course of two years.
Despite what she has been through, Kicklighter said his adopted daughter is trying to move on. She attends college and has good grades.
"I was really proud of her for being brave enough to testify," Lamken said, adding that the woman was "extremely strong."
Kicklighter said he wanted to draw attention to Morris’ story to remind others that people may do terrible things, but “justice is being served.”
Morris was convicted in January after a three day trial. The jury deliberated for five hours before finding Morris guilty on all counts of sexual assault of a child.