Kentucky man gets 45-year sentence in Kansas City victim’s ‘seven-hour nightmare’

Robert Caldwell
Robert Caldwell

Deep into a multistate rampage of robbery and kidnapping, Robert C. Caldwell got it wrong when he told a police officer, “I’m not going to prison.”

A federal judge in Kansas City sentenced Caldwell, 26, of Danville, Ky., to 45 years with no chance of parole for the January 2015 robbery, carjacking and kidnapping of a 67-year-old south Kansas City man, who was savagely beaten during the ordeal.

Caldwell pleaded guilty in February in U.S. District Court in Kansas City to charges of kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, carjacking, using a gun during a violent crime and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The victim of what U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson called a “seven-hour nightmare” told U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips on Thursday that he was sure he was going to be killed during the ordeal, which ended only when he got the gun away from his kidnappers and escaped.

He was beaten multiple times by his abductors; some of his teeth were broken when they shoved a gun in his mouth; and he was denied any food, water or bathroom breaks during the ordeal.

But the worst part was when the kidnappers told him that an accomplice had killed his wife after they kidnapped him.

It was a lie, but he didn’t know it until after he got away.

“She was everything to me,” he told U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips.

Dickinson asked the judge to sentence Caldwell to life in prison, noting that he began his criminal career as a juvenile when he robbed seven people in a 24-hour period.

“The only job he’s ever really held is to rob and steal from other people,” she said.

During her argument, Dickinson played a recording of Caldwell’s confession, in which he said he should have killed the victim so he wouldn’t have been caught.

She praised the victim’s heroism in fighting back and getting away.

“He had to fight for his life or he was going to lose it,” she said. “If he (Caldwell) gets out, the next victim will not be as strong, determined or heroic.”

Caldwell’s attorney, assistant federal public defender Robert Kuchar, argued for a sentence of 22 years.

A life sentence would be called for in a murder case or when someone who commits repeated violent crimes over a long period, he said.

“He is entitled to part of his life,” Kuchar said.

Before he was sentenced, Caldwell told the judge that he accepted full responsibility for what he did and was ready to accept the consequences, but he asked her to have mercy on him.

He also apologized to the victim and said he hoped he could now find closure.

“Sir, I’m truly sorry for the hurt and pain I’ve caused you and your family,” he said.

According to court documents filed in Caldwell’s case, he and the teen accomplice, De’zahn James Carey, stole a truck in Kentucky and came to Missouri to rob a drug dealer in St. Joseph.

That plan fell through, and they ended up in the Kansas City area, where they burglarized several cars and eluded police in a chase.

After abandoning the truck early on Jan. 22, 2015, they confronted the 67-year-old man at gunpoint outside his home in south Kansas City.

They beat and robbed the man and forced him into his van. They drove to several ATMs in an attempt to get cash, but the man couldn’t remember his PIN.

The kidnappers tied the man’s hands and covered him with a blanket as they drove east on Interstate 70. Along the way, they made numerous stops and used the victim’s credit cards.

After the abductors parked at a rest stop and fell asleep, the victim freed his hands. He picked up a weight and struck the assailants in an escape attempt. It didn’t work, and they subsequently beat him.

The victim pretended to be unconscious. They were driving in suburban St. Louis when one of the kidnappers set his gun down. The victim grabbed it and was able to escape.

Caldwell and his accomplice continued driving east and robbed a woman in Indiana.

They drove back to Kentucky, where the teen was dropped off. Still driving the Kansas City man’s stolen van, Caldwell got into a crash, then stole another car.

The van was recovered on Jan. 23, 2015, in Nelson County. A sheriff’s deputy and a captain recognized Caldwell from a surveillance video and photographs. Also, Caldwell’s father contacted law enforcement and told them he recognized his son in the video and photographs, the FBI said.

Caldwell later kidnapped a 13-year-old, whom he dropped off a few miles away.

He ended up in another police chase that ended with his arrest when he crashed the stolen vehicle into a creek.

Carey, who was 17 at the time, is charged in Jackson Circuit Court with kidnapping, first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and armed criminal action. A trial in his case is scheduled for Aug. 29.