Lorraine Childress says she continues to have panic attacks, and repeatedly checks the locks on her doors each night — more than 11-1/2 years after an intruder attacked her and her husband at knifepoint.
But now she’s thankful a Palm Beach County jury last week convicted Jerry Wiggins — who previously gained notoriety for raping and killing a West Boca nanny — in the July 11, 2003 pre-dawn home invasion near Lantana.
Your home is supposed to be your safe place,” Childress told Circuit Judge Stephen Rapp Tuesday, just before Wiggins received a 90-year sentence for his latest convictions. “But after the horrible things that happened in our world, for me that is not so anymore.”
Wiggins, 38, had faced a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of two life terms for the crimes of attempted first-degree murder with a weapon and burglary with assault or battery while armed.
Prosecutors Brian Fernandes and Cheryl Caracuzzo said Wiggins deserved the most severe sentence, considering his “propensity for violence.” Wiggins previously had been found guilty both of the January 2004 murder of Monica Rivera-Valdizan, 26, of Peru, and 2003 rape of a 14-year-old Broward girl.
Wiggins, a former handyman from Jersey City, N.J., received three consecutive life terms for the nanny case, and 15 years for the Coral Springs rape.
“He’s done nothing except become a blight on any community which is unfortunate enough to have him in it,” Fernandes said. “And he has been nothing but a blight on humanity.”
The defendant’s mother, Patricia Wiggins, told the court her son has been falsely accused and unfairly condemned.
“Jerry is a very loving and caring person,” Wiggins said, noting that he is loved by his two sons and other relatives and friends. “He is not the monster the prosecutor has made him out to be.”
Defense attorneys Glenn Mitchell and Joseph Walsh argued for the shortest possible prison term, after Rapp denied their request for a new trial and to delay sentencing.
Mitchell said Jerry Wiggins this month has been declared incompetent by a psychologist, and there’s “lingering doubt” Wiggins was the intruder who entered the Childress residence. Both issues are to be raised in an appeal, he promised.
At the trial that concluded Jan. 14, the defense harped on the fact that Lorraine Childress did not identify Wiggins in a police photo lineup for more than 18 months after the attack, and only after his mug shot was published in local newspapers after his arrest in the nanny case.
Her husband, Luther “Danny” Childress, testified did not get a good enough look at the man who repeatedly stabbed him during a struggle inside a dark bedroom.
A police composite sketch prepared with the input of the Childresses after the attack did not have Wiggins’ green eyes and looked nothing like him, Mitchell had insisted, saying the drawing “could be anybody.” There was no DNA or other physical evidence connecting Wiggins to the crime scene, the attorney said.
Wiggins did not speak on his own behalf Tuesday before Rapp imposed a 50-year sentence on the attempted murder count, and a 40-year term for the burglary charge, with both periods to run consecutive, and after Wiggins’ other sentences.
Wiggins was previously tried in 2007 on the same charges from the home invasion, but that trial ended with a hung jury.
It nearly happened again last week, when the jury in the retrial announced it was deadlocked after nine hours of deliberations over two days. But the panel resolved a 4-2 split, and returned an hour later with the convictions.
Lorraine Childress told the court she’s grateful for the jurors and the prosecutors.
“I know who came into my home that morning, and I know who has changed my life forever,” Childress said. “I think Jerry Wiggins is where he belongs here and never to hurt anybody ever again.”
Danny Childress, after leaving the courtroom with his wife and daughter, Danielle, called the 90-year sentence “phenomenal” and said he and his family finally had a feeling of closure.