A former prison transport contractor convicted last year of sexually abusing two women he was responsible for transporting defiantly accused federal prosecutors of lying and manufacturing evidence against him as he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison by Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall on Thursday.
Eric Scott Kindley, 53, of Manteca, Calif., was indicted in 2017 by a federal grand jury in connection with the sexual abuse of the two women as he drove across Arkansas to out-of-state jails in 2014 and 2017, and went to trial in March 2020. A jury took less than two hours to convict him on two counts of depriving the women of their civil rights -- by forcing one woman to perform oral sex on him and by digitally raping the other while grabbing her breasts -- as well as a third charge of using a firearm to carry out the assault on the second woman.
At his sentencing hearing, Kindley, appearing unrepentant and defiant, insisted on his innocence, saying he was "grieved in my spirit that the United States government would put somebody in prison for something they didn't do."
In a rambling, 20-minute statement, Kindley questioned much of the evidence he said was used to convict him. He said cell tower information prosecutors used to show his locations at the relevant times was incorrectly interpreted and that evidence that would have exonerated him was concealed.
"I should have taken the stand," he said. "It's absolutely ludicrous to think someone could go to prison for life because of something they didn't do."
Donald Mullenix, a private investigator from Jonesboro who was hired by Kindley's family three weeks ago, was allowed to testify to his findings, although Marshall questioned the timing of the maneuver.
"Just like the last time when we set a hearing for sentencing and we were right up on it," Marshall said, "Mr. Kindley would jam things up and have a whole bunch of new things you want to offer and I see us going around that track again."
But Marshall allowed Mullenix to testify, he said, so that it could be made a part of the court record.
"In the interest of moving the case to closure," the judge said, "I will hear the proffer from Mr. Mullenix and we'll talk about it."
Mullenix said that he had contacted all of the jails where Kindley had stopped between Alabama and California while transporting the two women he was convicted of sexually assaulting and had turned up a number of troubling discrepancies.
He questioned the testimony of Rowdy Sweet, a captain at the Pope County sheriff's office, as well as the county jail administrator and the mayor of Atkins. Sweet's testimony about highways and traffic in the area corroborated earlier FBI testimony about how calls and texts made on Kindley's cellphone on the day of the Pope County assault pinpointed his location in rural areas in the vicinity of the jail.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fara Gold and Maura White of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in Washington, who prosecuted the case, returned to Arkansas for the sentencing hearing. Gold pointed out a number of gaps in the information Mullenix had obtained and noted that several questions he raised were answered during the trial.
Gold argued for a life sentence, saying that Kindley's actions "are among the worst, if not the worst, I've ever seen ... and warrants a lifetime sentence."
She noted that the guideline sentencing range, which normally provides a range from a low end to a high end, only had one level in Kindley's case -- life in prison.
"There's a reason for that," she said. "The defendant's conduct is why life sentences are available. We recognize the gravity of what we're asking because it's a lot to ask for a sentence of life. But we also recognize the gravity of what the defendant did over and over again."
Gold said that Kindley's actions "under color of law" had terrorized countless women in the 15 years that he worked as a contractor transporting prisoners across the country.
"Every time he was alone with a woman he terrorized her in some fashion," she said. "If he ever gets out he's going to be a danger to any woman who has the opportunity to be alone with him. ...The only way to make sure he never does this again is to make sure he never gets out."
Gold said in the 19 months since Kindley's conviction, "every time the sentencing hearing was continued, through no fault of any of us, we heard from all the victims because they were terrified, terrified that he was going to get released. ... That terror even bubbled up between last night and this morning when they found out he had made a motion for a new trial."
At Kindley's trial, one of the two women he was convicted of assaulting told jurors that Kindley repeatedly placed his hand on the gun in his holster, which he wore on his hip, and told her, "It only takes one bullet to the head."
Both women said they were assaulted at night, when they were alone with Kindley in his white Dodge Caravan, before or after he picked up other prisoners on the multiday transports. Both said he made them move from a third row of the van to the second row, right behind him, so he could look them over in his rearview mirror while he talked extensively about sex and asked them intimate questions they didn't want to answer.
Both women were restrained at the time by handcuffs, leg shackles and waist chains.
Six women -- the two he was charged with assaulting and four other women -- testified at Kindley's five-day trial. The two women he was convicted of sexually assaulting were being transported through Arkansas from other states at the times the assaults occurred in 2014 and 2017.
Another woman testified that Kindley forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2012 when he transported her from Las Vegas to San Joaquin County, Calif. An Arizona woman told jurors Kindley assaulted her in February 2013 as he drove her from Florida to Texas, and a woman who said he transported her from Oregon to New Mexico in February 2017 told jurors that he didn't attempt to assault her, for which she credited her attitude and tough-looking physical appearance.
Another woman testified at Kindley's trial that he transported her over a period of seven or eight days from Los Angeles to a jail in Flathead County, Mont., in April 2013. She described inappropriate sexual comments he made while she was his only passenger and told jurors how she fought him off when he tried to assault her, telling him if he shot her, her blood would be all over his van, incriminating him.
At the conclusion of Kindley's sentencing hearing Thursday, Marshall denied his motion for a new trial and sentenced him to two life terms to be served concurrently for the two counts of depriving the women of their civil rights, and an additional five years to be served consecutively on the count of possession of a firearm to further a crime of violence.
"In my mind, I see the case as one involving an abuse of the public trust," Marshall said as he imposed the sentence. "The public is in need of protection and the way to prevent you from being in the driver's seat, in a position of power to abuse others, is for you to be incarcerated."
Kindley, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, shackled and in leg irons, his long, gray hair tied in a ponytail and his face betraying no emotion, stood as Marshall imposed the sentence.
Information for this article was contributed by Linda Satter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.