TAMPA, FL. -Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren announced Wednesday that his office has reached the major milestone of convicting 300 child predators in a five-year span. The figure equates to an average of one predator locked up every four days the courthouse was open.
“The child molesters and pedophiles sent away from Hillsborough County alone over the past five years are enough to fill an entire prison wing,” Warren said.
“We can sleep better knowing that they’re sleeping behind bars.”
The announcement came at the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and on the same day as one of those predators, James Walther, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for attacking and raping a 14-year-old family member.
Standing with members of his office’s Special Victims Unit, Warren said, “These are quiet victories.
Cases that we all know are so important, but that you likely haven’t heard of unless you live in the courthouse like we do. But the survivors in each of these cases know. We want to make sure the community knows, too.”
Examples of child predators taken off the streets
The 300 convictions over the past five years represent an 89% conviction rate in cases where a person is charged with sexually abusing or molesting a child. Examples of recent convictions include:
- Michael Negron Santiago started raping his stepdaughter when she was 12 years old. Sentenced to 25 years in prison followed by 10 years of probation. (Case 20-CF-1523)
- Brody Karcewski took an eight-year-old victim into the bathroom at Busch Gardens and molested her. Sentenced to 25 years in prison followed by probation for life. (Case 2018-CF-3005)
- Reco Johnson crept into the bedroom of his girlfriend’s 15-year-old daughter and forcibly raped her. Sentenced to 35 years in prison followed by 10 years of probation. (Case 2019-CF-8240)
- Kerry Figuried is a 76-year-old man who molested and tried to rape a 12-year-old. Sentenced to 25 years in prison followed by 20 years of probation. (Case 2019-CF-7804)
- Lewis Matthews sexually abused his girlfriend’s 10-year-old daughter, then poured bleach on her to try to destroy the evidence. Sentenced to life in prison. (Case 2019-CF-5023)
- Sebastian Aquino repeatedly raped a little girl over the span of several years, with abuse starting when she was only 3 years old. Sentenced to life in prison. (18-CF-18090)
Those six villains represent only 1/50th of the child predators put away by Hillsborough prosecutors since April 2017.
“My office handles more than 50,000 cases a year. The cases we’re talking about today are just a small percentage of our overall work, but they are some of the most complicated, most emotional, most devastating, most horrible cases we handle,” Warren said. “They require the work of experienced prosecutors and dedicated law enforcement investigators.”
Wednesday afternoon, one of the predators convicted by Hillsborough SVU prosecutors learned he will spend 35 years in prison. Last month, prosecutors tried and convicted James Walther for attacking and raping a member of his family.
The victim was removed from her mother’s home due to poor living conditions when she was 11 years old. Walther and his wife took her in. She lived with them in their home in North Tampa, near Fletcher Avenue and Interstate 75.
Then, when the victim was 14, Walther preyed on her. He pulled her into his bedroom and forced himself on her. In another incident, he attacked her as she was watching TV on the couch—pinning her down and raping her twice.
The victim feared that reporting the crimes would leave her with nowhere to live. But, four years later, she bravely contacted the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. She then worked with detectives to record a phone call with Walther. During the call, Walther admitted to abusing her, adding that he knew it was illegal.
“These attacks took place in 2016 and 2017, but that trauma still haunts this young woman. Even the movie scene that was playing on TV during one of the attacks is still burned into her mind,” Warren said. “At trial, she bravely testified against her abuser. Because she mustered that courage, our prosecutors could send this man where he belongs—to prison for a very, long time.”
Assistant State Attorneys Jessica O’Connor and C.J. Pruner led the prosecution. A jury found Walther guilty of three counts of sexual battery by a person with familial or custodial authority. Wednesday, Judge Mark Kiser ordered him to spend 35 years in Florida State Prison, followed by 10 years of sex offender probation.