An 18-year-old Bartow man faces up to life imprisonment after pleading no contest Thursday to violently raping a two-year-old girl last year and hiding the bloody bed sheet from the attack in a nearby wooded area.
Since Thomas James Johnson doesn't have a plea agreement with prosecutors, his sentence will rest solely with Circuit Judge Kevin Abdoney, who has scheduled a two-day sentencing hearing in August. Prosecutors anticipate presenting evidence during that hearing regarding the girl's ongoing condition. According to Johnson's arrest affidavit, she was so severely injured in the April 2018 attack that she required emergency surgery at Tampa General Hospital.
Johnson, then 17, was arrested last April 28 after contacting the girl's father, saying a masked intruder had forced his way into the Bartow house where he was babysitting for the girl and two other children, the affidavit states. Johnson said the intruder had sexually assaulted the girl in her bedroom, and he had fought the intruder before the man ran from the house, according to his arrest affidavit.
When Polk County Sheriff's Office deputies arrived, they found the child in her bedroom “screaming and in obvious pain,” the affidavit states. She was bleeding, reports stated, and deputies located a bloody towel nearby.
Initially, they mounted a search for a possible intruder, according to court records. During that search, a Polk County Sheriff's Office K-9 discovered a bloody bed sheet in some tall grass beside an orange tree behind the house where the attack occurred. The track led no further, reports stated. Johnson later confessed to hiding the sheet.
During questioning by detectives, Johnson said he had put the three children to bed about 9:30 p.m. and had gone to sleep himself, but was awakened when one of the children screamed.
“Johnson stated he ran out and encountered a masked intruder, dressed all in black, fought with him, and the intruder fled out the back door,” the arrest affidavit states.
The child's father told deputies that Johnson had called him about 10 p.m. to say someone had broken into the house and the girl was hurt and bleeding.
When talking with detectives, Johnson explained why he didn't call 911, according to reports.
“Johnson confessed he did not call 911 to get medical attention for the 2-year-old victim, who was bleeding profusely from her vagina, but instead took his bed sheet in the woods to hide it from law enforcement and then took a shower prior to deputies arriving,” the arrest affidavit states.
He said he hid the bloody sheet because he didn't want anyone to find his fingerprints on it and think he had done anything wrong, according to the affidavit. He said leaving the bloody towel in the house was an oversight.
While examining the crime scene, deputies discovered the underside of Johnson's mattress was stained with blood, suggesting it had been flipped over before deputies arrived, according to the affidavit.
On Thursday, Johnson pleaded no contest to sexual battery on a child under 12 and tampering with evidence. By pleading no contest, he neither admitted nor denied the allegations against him, but legally, it carries the same weight as a guilty plea.
Had Johnson been 18 when the crime occurred, his plea would have carried a mandatory life sentence. But since he was only 17, state statutes allow for a sentence up to life imprisonment. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 29 and 30.
Johnson has remained in the Polk County Jail without bail since his arrest last April. According to his affidavit, he was on felony probation for burglary and grand theft at the time of his arrest.