A 37-year-old La Marque man found guilty of sexually assaulting a young girl went missing and law enforcement officers were searching for him Friday, officials said.
Billy Wayne Atwood Jr. did not appear in court for sentencing earlier in the day, the morning after a jury found Atwood guilty of sexually assaulting a girl for six years, starting when the child was age 6 or 7, Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said. When Atwood didn’t show up, the jury sentenced him to life in prison, according to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors requested Atwood, who was free on bond, be booked into jail after the conviction. However, visiting Judge David Garner did not grant their request.
“It’s not normal to let them go, but it’s the judge’s decision whether to release them on bond,” Roady said.
Garner defended his decision. The retired Galveston County district judge, who also serves as a visiting judge in surrounding counties, said Atwood showed up to every required court appearance since he was arrested and charged in 2012. Although judges may revoke bond after a defendant is found guilty, Garner said it can remain valid.
Because the jury found Atwood guilty of a lesser crime than his original charge, which was continuous sexual assault of a child, Garner said the defendant could’ve remained free on bond during an appeal.
“Since they came back with a lesser charge, I was going to wait and see,” Garner said. “I have done this before, and this is the first time in 23 years this has happened. It’s easy to second guess.”
Garner said he had been confident Atwood would appear for sentencing in part because Atwood’s mother had pledged her house as collateral for the $40,000 bond.
A phone message to Atwood’s attorney, Winifred Bandy Weber, was not returned before publication of this article.
Assistant District Attorneys Rebecca Russell and Virginia Frank prosecuted Atwood in the 122nd District Court.
The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and La Marque Police Department were looking for Atwood on Friday.