Robert Hardigree was convicted Wednesday on one count of rape, one count of child molestation, one count of aggravated child molestation and 42 counts of sexual exploitation of children. He was sentenced to two life sentences without parole plus 860 years.
Hardigree, 36, of Monroe, had a previous conviction of child molestation in 1992 in Barrow County.
“The sentence handed down to Robert Hardigree reflects just how heinous these crimes were,” Monroe police Chief Keith Glass said. “I am very proud of the work done on this case by our Criminal Investigative Division. Sergeant Alicia Martin, who works the vast majority of these cases, did an excellent job as she has with other crimes that have occurred against children and women within the city of Monroe. These cases take a toll on all involved.”
Hardigree was arrested Aug. 15, 2008, after a joint investigation of the Monroe Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The rape, aggravated child molestation and child molestation charges were for an incident involving a 10-year-old girl. The 42 counts of sexual exploitation of children were for videos and images of child pornography found on Hardigree’s computer.
Jury selection began Monday and testimony and witnesses for the prosecution took the stand Tuesday. The defense called no witnesses, and Hardigree chose not to take the stand in the trial. The jury of four women and eight men deliberated for more than a hour before rendering a verdict.
Before the jury heard the closing arguments, Brett Mizeruk, Hardigree’s appointed counsel, asked for the charges to be dismissed because the state failed to reach the burden of proof that Hardigree knowingly had those images on his computer. Mizeruk also argued taking the statements of the victim on their own merits was not enough.
Eric Crawford, assistant district attorney for Walton County, countered with evidence presented during the trial Hardigree admitted to the GBI he had child pornography on his computer and he took pictures of himself with the minor in sexually explicit positions.
Judge Horace Johnson denied the motions to dismiss.
During closing arguments, Mizeruk continued his argument the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt Hardigree had done anything. The defense attorney raised questions about the testimony of Rose Hardigree, the wife, who is also facing charges, who lied to officers and through a guilty conscience offered her assistance to investigators. He also argued GBI officials could not conclusively prove who was on the keyboard when the child pornography files were downloaded.
“It is very easy to make a leap to say he is guilty,” Mizeruk said. “My client is presumed not to have done anything.”
In his closing argument, Crawford presented “the evidence that links this child rapist to the incident.”
Crawford talked about the e-mail address used by Hardigree that was reported to law enforcement, initiating the investigation. He also brought up the pictures taken by the defendant, the images on the computer as well as the intentional searches for child pornography on in Internet.
“The most damaging evidence is he admitted to the GBI he had child pornography on his computer and to please wipe it off and leave the computer with him,” Crawford said.
Due to state laws, Hardigree was given life without parole on the rape and aggravated child molestation because of his prior conviction. Judge Johnson agreed to impose the maximum sentence for the remaining charges — 20 years for the child molestation charge and each of the sexual exploitation of a child.
"25% of all sex offenders re-offend within 15 years"