DA: Fort Bend County mother sentenced to 30 years for failing to protect 13-year-old ‘child bride’ of 47-year-old man

On April 29, a jury convicted Cherry Payton of continuous sexual abuse of a young child. (KPRC)

RICHMOND, Texas – A mother will serve the next three decades of her life behind bars after failing to protect her daughter from sexual abuse, a jury has decided.

On April 29, a jury convicted Cherry Payton of continuous sexual abuse of a young child and sentenced her to serve 30 years, day for day, in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division.

According to prosecutors, in June 2017, the child victim went to the doctor and, during the course of routine medical questioning, disclosed that she was sexually active with “her husband,” who she said was 47 years old at that time.

Payton, the girl’s mother, was present at the medical visit and claimed the child was married with her consent.

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When questioned about the offense, Payton explained that the marriage between the 13-year-old and a 47-year-old man was a normal part of her religious beliefs. Payton, herself, is 43 years old.

After investigating, deputies arrested the husband, Steven Carty, and charged him with aggravated sexual assault of a child.

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Investigators looked into the Fort Bend County Clerk’s Office and did not find any records of a marriage license. The sheriff’s office said it was not a legal marriage, but that Carty and the teen considered themselves married based on religious beliefs.

Detectives said the family lived in the Sugar Land area and are part of the Hebrew Israelites faith.

During Payton’s trial, evidence presented by Fort Bend County child abuse prosecutors revealed that the defendant allowed the child to live under a purported covenant of marriage for nearly a year before it came to the attention of authorities.

The jury also heard evidence that years earlier, Payton had sexually abused the child herself, at that time under the guise of a different religion.

Although a person must be 18 years of age to marry in Texas, there are exceptions that allow a minor who is at least 16 years of age to marry subject to certain conditions. The evidence showed that the child in this case was too young for the exceptions to apply.

“Every child deserves to feel safe with their mother and this child wasn’t. As the nation prepares to celebrate Mother’s Day, I am reminded that not every child has a mother who will protect them,” lead prosecutor Charann Thompson said, “But I take solace in this jury’s verdict, because it says that there’s a consequence awaiting mothers who fail to protect as profoundly as Cherry Payton did.”

Prosecutor Jessica Ramos noted, “Although the child victim in this case was failed by her mother time and time again, she was surrounded in the courtroom by a strong support system. We are grateful to her adoptive mother, her court advocate, her CASA, and the caseworkers from Child Protective Services that supported the child throughout this investigation and trial.”

Prosecutor Melissa Munoz, deputy chief of the District Attorney’s Child Abuse Division, commented, “Motherhood is a gift and a privilege. Cases involving child victims are always emotionally difficult to prosecute, this one particularly so. No one wants to think or believe another human being is capable of committing crimes against children, but they happen every day, most often by someone close to the child.”

District Attorney Brian Middleton praised the work of Sgt. Dawn Eddleblute with the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and expressed his gratitude for the Children’s Advocacy Center at Child Advocates of Fort Bend for their forensic interview program and the therapy services the agency provides to children and families in cases involving child victims and witnesses.

“All adults have a duty to protect and nurture children that are under their care. When there is a failure to do so, law enforcement will intervene to protect the child and hold violators accountable. I applaud this child for her strength and resilience as she continues to recover from the crimes committed against her. I pray that she is successful in all of her future endeavors,” Middleton said.

Payton was tried in the 400th District Court before Presiding Judge Tameika Carter. Continuous Sexual Abuse of Young Child is a first-degree felony punishable by 25 to 99 years, or life, in prison with no parole eligibility. The offense also requires lifetime registration as a sex offender.

As for Carty, in March, he received sentences of 22 years and 20 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child. He will serve the sentences concurrently. Carty also is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.