Byline: Bill Cresenzo
A man sentenced to at least 50 years in prison for molesting his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter will get a new sentencing because he didn't have a relationship of "trust and confidence" with the toddler that would support an aggravated sentence, the North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled in a split decision.
Bobby Helms of Union County dated the victim's mother. He had met the victim only twice before the assault, once when she was a newborn, and once when her mother brought her along for her first date with Helms when the victim was three years old. Helms molested the girl during a trip to his parents' house as the mother looked on. The victim told her stepmother about the incident, and her stepmother reported it to the police.
In 2017, a jury convicted Helms of two counts of engaging in a sex offense with a child under 13 and two counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. It also found that the state had proven two aggravating factors: that Helms had taken advantage of a position of trust or confidence to commit the crime, and that the victim was very young. Based on the aggravating factors, the judge sentenced Helms to no less than 50 years in prison.
A divided Court of Appeals panel upheld the sentence. But in a Sept. 21 opinion written by Justice Robin Hudson, the Supreme Court overruled the decision and remanded the case for resentencing. The evidence presented at trial wasn't sufficient to prove trust or confidence as aggravating factors because the victim didn't rely on Helms for her caretaking, Hudson wrote. Helms never took care of the victim, nor did she ever spend the night in the same place as him.
"The state's evidence showed only that [the victim] trusted the defendant in the same way she might trust any adult acquaintance, a fact which our courts have...