HOT SPRINGS -- A local man was found guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl in 2018 and sentenced to 100 years in prison Thursday after a two-day trial in Garland County Circuit Court.
Dewayne Van Tilmon, 37, who has remained in custody in lieu of a $300,000 bond since his arrest Sept. 22, 2019, was convicted of two counts of rape and sentenced to 50 years on each count, to run consecutively, for a total of 100 years.
The seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated for about an hour before finding Tilmon guilty and about 40 minutes before returning their recommended sentence shortly after 7 p.m.
Tilmon, who was listed as homeless at the time of his arrest, will have to serve at least 70%, or 70 years, of his sentence before he is eligible for parole, chief deputy prosecutor Kara Petro told The Sentinel-Record on Thursday. A court order permanently barring him from any contact with the victim or her family was issued.
Petro said the jury "has made it clear they have zero tolerance for raping a child. They really stood up for her."
Petro said the victim, who was 12 when the abuse started, testified at trial and was "very credible." Her little sister, who had "witnessed it numerous times," also testified along with the victim's mother who told jurors she didn't initially believe her daughter but later came to believe her.
"The mom walked in on [Tilmon] hiding in the closet in the child's bedroom with the door locked," she said. "The daughter took five minutes to come to the door and she was naked in a bedsheet."
Petro said Tilmon claimed at the time he was in the girl's room to "pay her back some money he owed her," but that didn't explain why he was hiding in the closet when the mother came to the door.
"[The victim] didn't say anything at that time because [Tilmon] was standing right there," she said.
Petro said Tilmon, who had nine previous felony convictions from 2000 and 2001, mostly residential burglaries and thefts, did not testify at trial.
While the rapes and abuse happened "on a regular basis," Petro said, she only charged Tilmon with two counts because the victim had to testify in detail about each incident and she didn't want to make her do that multiple times.
She said the girl testified about three different times he raped her, but "two counts was more than enough to get a conviction." She said the victim was "really sweet and thankful" after the verdict and sentence were announced.
According to the probable cause affidavit, a 13-year-old girl disclosed during a forensic interview July 25, 2018, at Cooper Anthony Mercy Child Advocacy Center that she was raped by a known suspect.
The girl stated that about one month prior to the interview, the suspect, identified as Tilmon, came into her bedroom and raped her, the affidavit said. During the incident, the girl's mother knocked on the bedroom door and Tilmon hid in the closet and instructed her to get her mother away from the door.
She said Tilmon told her not to tell her mother what happened and "not to snitch on him," according to the affidavit. When the girl's mother entered the room, she found Tilmon hiding in the closet, but he denied having any inappropriate contact with the girl.
Hot Springs police Detective Jarret Cantrell interviewed the mother, and she confirmed the incident her daughter described, the affidavit said.
On July 9, 2019, Detectives Brian Branstetter and Hunter Scott assisted Arkansas State Police Investigator Judy Jenson in reference to the case. Jenson noted she had attempted to contact the girl's counselor, her family and Tilmon with no response, according to the affidavit. It was discovered the same victim and offender had been previously investigated by the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division and the report was "found true."
The girl was interviewed again July 18 at Cooper-Anthony and she again stated she was raped by Tilmon, the affidavit said. She stated she had been raped on more than one occasion by Tilmon and the last time was when she was 13.
The case file was turned over to the prosecuting attorney's office and a warrant was issued for Tilmon's arrest Sept. 18. He was arrested Sept. 22 following a traffic stop in the city for speeding and failure to use a turn signal.