BELTON — A jury convicted former Nolanville mayor Charlie Lee Stewart of continuous sexual abuse of a child Wednesday, finding him guilty of repeatedly raping a 12-year-old girl.
Stewart, 59, could face up to life in prison for the charge, which stems from what prosecutors called a culture of abuse within a family that, for years, refused to take action against its patriarch.
Dressed in a black suit and showing no emotion, Stewart looked at Judge Fancy Jezek while she read the verdict and then at the jury as all 12 members — eight women and four men — raised their hands indicating they found the evidence showed he raped a 12-year-old relative over the course of several months in 2011 and 2012.
It took the jury 36 minutes to convict him.
The victim, now 14, smiled as an investigator from the Bell County district attorney’s office patted her on the back. She faced Stewart on Tuesday during testimony in which she detailed the abuse when she lived in his Nolanville home.
Sentencing will be determined by the judge Nov. 5. Stewart faces a minimum of 25 years without the possibility of parole.
During the past two days, the jury heard from four victims who testified Stewart raped them when they were children. The allegations date back to 1988; three of the victims are related to Stewart.
“You now know the Stewart family secret,” said prosecutor Shelley Strimple during closing arguments. “There can be no more victims.”
The allegations came to light after the 12-year-old victim told her mother of sexual abuse in 2012. During an investigation, two more of Stewart’s relatives came forward with allegations of abuse. Police arrested him in July 2012, while Stewart was mayor of Nolanville, and he has remained in Bell County Jail since.
Stewart took the stand in his defense Wednesday, telling the court he did not commit the crimes. He said a previous conviction of fondling a child in Natchez, Miss., resulted from a misunderstanding. He said he pleaded no contest just to make the situation go away.