JONESBORO — A Byron man wiped away tears Friday morning as he was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole for molesting a 7-year-old girl two years ago.
Robert Christopher Edwards, 30, told Clayton County Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons he was innocent.
“I didn’t do this,” said Edwards. “I just don’t understand how this happened. I felt like I’ve been wronged here.”
His relatives sat behind him and were also emotional during the brief hearing. On his way back to jail, Edwards looked at his family and mouthed, “I love you.”
Edwards was convicted last week on all counts of child molestation, aggravated child molestation, sexual battery on a child under 18, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated sodomy and enticing a child for indecent purposes.
According to court documents, Edwards molested a girl, then 7, in February 2011. The child made an outcry and was interviewed at Jonesboro’s Rainbow House, a shelter for abused children. The child told authorities Edwards molested her while threatening her with a knife and a gun.
Edwards was also known to carry handcuffs and told the girl to keep the abuse a secret, according to documents. However, she began having nightmares and told adults around her about the molestation.
Prosecutor Deah Warren argued that several of the counts merged and defense attorney Frank Hogue agreed. Hogue filed a last-minute motion fighting the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws which Simmons denied.
“While I share your concerns about mandatory minimums and believe the trial judge should have great discretion in sentencing, it’s not what I believe the laws are in this state,” Simmons said. “The constitutionality has been upheld before. It’s not my rule to say a statute is good or bad and I’m not going to follow it.”
Warren asked that Edwards be sentenced to the minimum of 25 years in prison followed by life on probation. Probation includes registering as a sex offender and no contact with the victim.
“She will be an adult by the time he’s released but we’d ask for no contact with her while he’s on probation,” said Warren.
Hogue said he agreed.
“I would join the state in asking the court to impose the minimum of 25 years without parole followed by probation for life,” he said.
Hogue filed a motion for a new trial but Edwards is expected to be represented on appeal by a lawyer from the Clayton County Public Defender’s Office.