Fleeing Bradenton rapist sentenced to 15 years in prison

A Bradenton man, convicted of raping a woman after fleeing prior to the last day of his trial, was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison.

Robert Earl Williams, 40, failed to show up in court March 9 for the final day of his trial for the 2012 sexual battery charge, but a jury nonetheless convicted him of a lesser charge and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

Williams was arrested early April 13 by U.S. Marshals Service at a hotel in Omaha, Neb., on two warrants for contempt of court.

Shelby Booth spoke about how being raped by Williams changed her life. Booth, who agreed to be publicly identified, appeared at the hearing via Skype since she no longer lives in the area.

“I've lost myself and most of the time I feel dirty and shameful and sometimes I even feel unlovable,” Booth said. “The Fourth of July just passed and I couldn't even enjoy it with my family because the fireworks kept giving me flashbacks.”

Booth fought back sobs as she spoke.

“Today, I want to say I forgive him ... for myself, so I can move on,” she said.

Williams is still set to stand trial for another 2012 sexual battery with a firearm charge. If convicted in that case, Williams would face life in prison.

The victim in that case testified Thursday via Skype also. Assistant State Attorney Brian Chambers argued Williams looked for victims who were down and, while Booth and his other alleged victim did not know each other, they testified at trial detailing similar facts of how they say Williams raped them.

“What he did to Shelby alone is worth 15 years,” Chambers said.

During his testimony, Williams said he fled the state because he kept hearing he was facing life in prison.

“I feared for my life,” Williams said.

Detective Jeffrey Bliss with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office testified Williams’ cell phone was tracked showing him northbound on Interstate 75 as he fled the state. Bliss helped coordinate the efforts with the U.S. Marshals Service to track Williams, he said.

“Eventually he turned his cell phone off, we were no longer able to track that phone and he purchased a new phone, that we were able to identify the number and locate that phone,” Bliss said.

Williams’ new cell phone led marshals to him in Nebraska weeks later.

Jessica De Leon: 941-745-7049, @JDeLeon1012