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Former Ruther Glen resident sentenced to life in prison

Posted on Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Robert Lee Oatis, formerly of Ruther Glen in Caroline County, had his hopes of being free upon completion of a Kansas prison sentence end on Thursday, April 6th, in Caroline County Circuit Court.  Judge Sarah Deneke sentenced Oatis to a total of 120 years in prison with 72 years suspended leaving 48 years to serve in prison.  Given that Oatis is already 50 years old it is effectively a life sentence.

Oatis was convicted of three counts of aggravated sexual battery of a child and 3 counts of forcible sodomy of a child for events that took place in 2007.

Oatis was extradited from Kansas where he was serving a sentence.  He had been paroled a total of five times in Kansas. Oatis had absconded four times; in 1997, 2000, 2001 and 2004. It was while a fugitive from parole that he committed the acts against what was then an 11-year-old child.  Oatis was picked up in Virginia and returned to Kansas in late 2007 shortly after the period of abuse, which had not yet been reported.

Commonwealth’s Attorney John Mahoney said that the case began for his office in 2016 shortly after he assumed duties.  He said it was a call from the frustrated mother of the victim that caught his attention.  She stated that she had reported the case prior to 2016 but got nowhere with the CA’s office.  There had earlier been a failed attempt to extradite Oatis from Kansas back to Virginia.  After that the case fell into the proverbial black hole. Mahoney decided that it was a case that needed to be more fully investigated.  After the investigation he decided that charges should be pursued even if the risk of losing at trial was high due to a lack of physical evidence.

While the case lacked much in the way of physical evidence, the victim, now a young adult, was resolute and consistent in her version of events. Kristel DiGravio-Ferguson, then the sheriff’s domestic violence investigator, set about the business of corroborating as much of the victim’s story as could be done.  This included chasing down financial records to determine where people were during the dates of the offenses 10 years ago.  Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Ben Heidt, assisted by Victim-Witness Coordinator Estee Newby-Howard and the CA’s Administrative Manager, Michele Millard got the case ready for trial.  Much cooperation was developed with authorities in Florida and Kansas.

This case was truly a team effort according to Commonwealth’s Attorney John Mahoney.  We were so fortunate to have the full cooperation of authorities in Kansas and Florida.  This case proved generally the value of having a victim-witness coordinator, administrative manager, and particularly a specialized domestic violence investigator from the Sheriff’s Office as part of the Commonwealth’s Attorney team.  Mahoney credits the victim’s mother for her persistence in keeping a pedophile off the street.  The victim demonstrated great courage in getting on the witness stand to testify to painful events.  Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Ben Heidt prosecuted the trial with his usual professional vigor.