Hugh Viera, 54, agreed to serve 30 years in prison in connection with the plea deal his attorney, Autumn Town, negotiated with Jefferson Parish prosecutors. By pleading guilty, he averted a trial, which was scheduled to begin Monday in 24th Judicial District Judge Conn Regan's court.
The plea also meant that the victims did not have to testify. At the time the crimes happened, between 1995 and 2000, the victims' ages ranged from 5 years old to 16. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse.
Two of them provided impact testimony during Monday's sentencing hearing. One of them read aloud a poem she wrote, and the other said she was speaking for the other victims.
"They may have not been strong enough to face you and do what was necessary to get justice, but today I am their voice," she wrote in a statement that a district attorney's office employee read aloud in court.
"I trusted (you) to protect me, but instead you violated me," she wrote. "Shame on you. Shame on you. You have everyone fooled believing that you were such a nice guy. Well, Mr. Nice guy, your time has run out. I do want to thank you for this experience, because without it, I wouldn't be the woman I am today, and would be naïve to predators like you."
Prosecutors said that Viera fled his Jefferson Parish apartment in 2008, when detectives went to arrest him in connection with the sex abuse charges. A grand jury handed up 10-count indictment Dec. 18, 2008. But because Viera was at large, prosecutors had his case record sealed from public viewing.
At the time he was indicted, Viera was on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, prosecutors said. The prosecutors cited "confidential information," in saying Viera still was on St. Vincent in 2008.
They feared that if he learned he faced charges in Jefferson Parish, he would flee to another country and force U.S. authorities to restart the extradition process, prosecutors said. The case remained sealed for three years, until after prosecutors said Viera had been arrested.
He pleaded not guilty during his arraignment hearing in March 2013, more than four years after he was indicted. At the time, he identified his home as Stubbe Village, at St. Vincent. He has been jailed since his return to the United States to face trial.
On Monday, when jury selection was set to begin for his trial, Viera pleaded guilty to six counts of aggravated incest involving victims under age 13, one count of forcible rape, one count of attempted aggravated rape, one count of sexual battery and one count of oral sexual battery.
He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for each of the aggravated incest charges, 20 years for the forcible rape, 30 years for the attempted aggravated rape, and 10 years each for the sexual battery and oral sexual battery. The sentences were run concurrently.
The abuse wasn't limited to Jefferson Parish, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Sanderson wrote in court documents. He asserted that while in Texas, Viera inappropriately touched and tried to have intercourse with one of the victims, when she was age 7 or 8. Viera also sexually abused the girl over a two-week period around Christmas in 1992, when they were in the Virgin Islands, Sanderson wrote.
Also during Christmas of 1992, while they were in the Virgin Islands, Viera showed pornography to another of the girls, then 7 years old, "and solicited her to do what the adults in the video were doing," Sanderson wrote.
Despite the sexual abuse, young woman whose letter was read in court Monday said she had forgiveness for Viera. "I forgive you for taking away my innocence when I had no choice," she wrote. "I forgive you for causing me years of shame, pain, hurt, confusion and guilt. Today I leave all of that here and promise to work diligently to never go back to it again."
She also addressed the other victims, advising each of them to "live the rest of your life to the fullest, let this tragedy become your testimony to help someone else."