NJ judges say 160 years in prison too harsh for raping 4-year-old
NEWARK — A convicted child rapist who was sentenced to 160 years in prison was partially granted an appeal this week after a panel of judges agreed that his punishment was excessive.
Michael F. Calderon was found guilty in 2015 of repeatedly raping a young girl starting when she was about 4 until she was 11 years old.
A Superior Court judge effectively sent him to die in prison, handing down consecutive 20-year sentences that would keep him locked up until the year 2130. He was 62 at the time of sentencing.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel ruled that the sentence was “excessive and arbitrary” and that “no purpose was served by sentencing defendant to a term that far exceeds his natural lifetime.”
Quoting a 2011 appellate decision in another case, the panel noted that a judge is not supposed to “permit his or her sense of moral outrage and indignation to overwhelm the legal process” but must reassure defendants, victims and society that the court “will be guided exclusively by the factors established by law and not by the judge's personal code of conduct.”
The appellate panel ordered that Caldreron be resentenced but to no more than 80 years, which had been the maximum amount he had been told he’d face when he turned down a plea deal because he didn’t want to be deported.
The judges, however, upheld Calderon’s convictions on 21 counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, 21 counts of second-degree child endangerment, and first- and second-degree counts of production of child pornography.
Caldreron’s appeal by the public defender’s office argued that the court had improperly allowed an expert to testify on Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome, a disputed theory now regarded as junk science.
In a separate but related matter on Wednesday, the state’s Supreme Court upheld the reversal of three child sex abuse convictions on grounds that the cases hinged on the theory, which has been used since the 1980s to explain why some alleged victims keep the abuse secret or later recant allegations. The state Supreme Court in 2018 restricted the use of the theory in criminal trials.
In Calderon’s appeal, which was not before the top court, the appellate panel did not overturn the conviction because they did not believe that the expert testimony was central to the case.
Calderon is not a blood relative of the girl he was convicted of victimizing. The girl’s mother had lost custody of her children when the girl was 5 and she and her half-brothers went to live with her step-father’s mother, who was in a relationship with Calderon.
According to testimony in the case, Calderon would give the girl’s foster mother liquor in order to take the girl to his apartment for the weekends. There, he would rape her orally, vaginally and anally, prosecutors said.
The girl was also molested on numerous occasions by the boyfriend of Calderon’s daughter, who took over watching the children when the elder woman died.
The girl finally revealed the allegations when she was 11, the age that her biological father won custody of her.
“Jenny admitted that she did not tell her father everything that happened at first,” the appellate decision summarizes, using a pseudonym to protect the victim’s identity. “Jenny said that her life changed when she left Newark and moved in with her father: ‘I get to speak free now.’ She does not get woken up by someone wanting to have sex with her, does not get hit every day, and does not live with drunk people.”
After her father alerted authorities, the girl was examined and found to have the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia, prosecutors said.
Calderon denied raping the girl, arguing that his daughter’s boyfriend had been the rapist. The defense also tried to highlight the fact that Calderon tested negative for chlamydia, although prosecutors downplayed that point by pointing out that chlamydia can be cured.
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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.