Three Sentenced In Kidnapping-Slavery Case
KERRVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Three men convicted in a scheme to kidnap drifters for slave labor that left one man dead were given sentences Friday ranging from four months to 15 years in prison.
A jury issued the sentences two days after convicting rancher Walter Wesley Ellebracht Sr., 54, his son Walter Wesley Ellebracht Jr., 33, and Carlton Robert Caldwell, 21, a former ranch foreman, of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping and murder.
The elder Ellebracht was sentenced to seven years’ probation, but Judge Tom Blackwell told him he would have to serve 120 days in jail. The younger Ellebracht received 15 years in prison and Caldwell 14 years in prison. The three had faced up to life in prison.
The charges stemmed from the alleged abduction, cattle-prod torture and slaying of drifter Anthony Bates.
The state claimed Bates, like other hitchhikers, was lured to the Ellebracht ranch with the promise of work, then was forced into slavery.
The prosecution relied heavily on tape recordings of alleged torture sessions involving the transient. Witnesses identified voices on the tapes as belonging to Caldwell and the younger Ellebracht.
Two other hitchhikers, Travis Boyd and Robert McCafferty, also claimed they were picked up by the Ellebrachts, taken to the ranch on the promise of work and then were forced to dig ditches on a chain gang.
Both Boyd and McCafferty testified they were tortured with a cattle prod and forced to work at gunpoint.
The defense did not deny some of the hitchhikers were abused, but they claimed there was no conspiracy to kidnap the men or to kill Bates.
″Probation is merely a slap on the wrist and not a proper punishment in this case considering the atrocities that occurred on that ranch in 1984,″ prosecutor Gerald Carruth told jurors.
Defense lawyer Dan Cogdell told the panel the senior Ellebracht might not be able to survive a prison term.
″You know he’s an older man and not in excellent health. That man couldn’t survive prison. I suggest to you that putting him in a 4-by-6 cage for any length of time is a death sentence,″ he said.
″You know Walter Wesley Ellebracht Sr. has lost his land. He has lost his wife. Now the state wants you to take the only thing he has left - his freedom,″ Cogdell said.
Defense lawyer Ray Bass, who represents the younger Ellebracht, urged the jury not to go into deliberations thinking like a ″lynch mob.″
The younger Ellebracht ″may be a man despised by the community and booed and hissed at as he walks down the hallway to this courtroom, but he’s a human being and he deserves a second chance,″ Bass said.