A man told his niece he’d divorce her aunt to marry her before sexually assaulting her on a road trip from Tennessee to New Mexico, federal prosecutors said.
The uncle, 56, of Sunbright, is a registered sex offender previously accused of sex crimes against other children, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
His niece told investigators he drove her away from Tennessee and coerced her into sexual acts in his truck during the trip between Dec. 29, 2019, and Jan. 2, 2020, prosecutor’s said.
In the case’s latest development, the man was sentenced on May 11 to life plus 120 months in prison on charges of enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity, transportation of a minor to engage in sexual activity, a felony offense involving a minor by an individual required to register as a sex offender and escape, prosecutors announced on May 15.
McClatchy News is not naming the man to protect the victim’s identity.
Following his arrest, he unsuccessfully tried escaping a hospital where he underwent a heart procedure while in federal custody, according to officials.
McClatchy News contacted his attorneys for comment on May 15 and didn’t immediately receive a response.
The case dates to July 2019, when the man’s minor niece, whose age wasn’t specified, was living with him and his wife, prosecutors said. Officials didn’t say why the niece was living with them.
At some point, the man began secretly messaging his niece hundreds of times on a “secret cell phone” he bought her, according to officials. Her mother had no idea he gave her a phone and that they exchanged nearly 3,000 texts, according to an earlier news release.
The man told the girl “he loved her and only wanted to be with her” and promised he’d divorce his wife so they could get married, prosecutors said.
Then, he took her on a road trip to New Mexico to sexually assault her, according to the release.
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office was tipped off that he was driving a child out of state, the earlier release said.
He was eventually caught and accused of rape, according to prosecutors.
His life sentence is to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release and he must “register with state sex offender registries,” officials said.
Sunbright is about 135 miles east of Nashville.