OKEECHOBEE — “I really just wanted to come to tell you that I’m not afraid of you anymore,” the young woman told the man convicted of sexually abusing her as a child.
“You don’t have power over me anymore.”
Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn Thursday sentenced Tommy Comfort, 37, to 30 years in prison and 10 years probation, as part of a sentencing deal that requires Comfort to testify against his brother, Carlton Duane Comfort, 54.
Tommy has waived his own right to appeal and will be put on the sexual predator registry.
Tommy was sentenced to 30 years on each of four counts of sexual battery on a child under the age of 12. As part of the sentencing agreement, the judge ruled the 30-year sentences will run concurrently.
During the former U.S. Marine’s trial in January, four victims detailed for the jury how his abuse began with fondling and progressed to his having intercourse with the girls and forcing them to perform oral sex. One of those girls was only 4 to 5 years of age when she was abused in the early 1990s.
The abuse, which started when Comfort was a juvenile, continued until he joined the Marines in 1996, according to the trial testimony.
The brothers were finally arrested in 2014 when the youngest victim went to the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) where she spoke to then-detective John Fisher. While on the stand at the January trial, she told jurors she didn’t tell her sisters she was going to tell law enforcement about what happened to them as children.
“I just did it. I didn’t want anyone to talk me out of it,” she testified.
At the sentencing on Wednesday, Feb. 24, two of the abuse victims asked to speak.
“When the abuse started, I didn’t understand,” said the first victim. “I always thought it was my fault.
“Now that I have children of my own and I see the happy memories that they are making, I regret that I don’t have any happy memories of my childhood, because of what you have done to me,” she said.
She said her history of abuse has caused her to be suspicious of everyone she meets.
Tommy’s conviction and sentencing have given her some relief, she said.
“After so many years of hiding my emotions, I am finally free of you,” she said.
“I have lived in fear and shame for most of my life,” said the second victim to take the podium. “The day I turned you in was the happiest moment of my life.
“About three years ago, I decided to turn my life around,” she said. “I got clean. I got married.
“Although you are going away, it doesn’t end for me,” she continued. “I have nightmares. I am in therapy. I will probably be in therapy for the rest of my life.
“I will never forgive you,” she said. “I will never forget.”
Tommy was not allowed to speak to the victims, but was allowed to make a statement to the court.
“I know we didn’t have a good home life,” he said. “My brother molested me as well. I just hope that my family forgives me because I love each and every one of my family members.
“I’ve lost everything — my house, my career and now I’m fixing to lose my life.
“I wonder what would have happened if this had come out when I was a teenager, when my brother was molesting me and making me do these things,” he continued.
“More things happened that haven’t come out,” he said.
The judge warned him that under the sentencing guidelines that were in place when the crimes occurred, he could sentence Tommy to 17 to 40 years in prison on each count.
The judge noted that Tommy had given a statement on Feb. 4 about his brother’s involvement in the sexual abuse of the same victims.
“If you come back in here and say something different at the trial, you could be charged with perjury,” said the judge.
Should that happen, the sentencing deal would be nullified and the judge could use his own discretion to sentence Tommy.
Tommy asked the judge if he could intervene with Department of Corrections so that his daughter would be allowed to visit him in prison.
“My 7-year-old daughter has Down’s Syndrome,” he said. “It’s in her best interest to see her daddy.”
“I don’t have authority to order DOC to do anything,” said the judge.
Carlton Duane Comfort Jr., 54, was arrested July 23, 2014. He is charged with five counts of capital sexual battery victim under 12 years of age by a perpetrator under 18 years of age.
Okeechobee News staff writer Eric Kopp contributed to this article.
Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at email@example.com