Riverfront Times

'Life Begins at Conception' Law Means 13-Year-Old Was Really 14, Molester Argues

Danny Wicentowski May 25, 2018 8:04 AM
Eric Crider.

It takes a bold individual to argue in court that the teen he sexually abused was actually nine months older than her birth date. But ever since his 2016 conviction for child molestation, Eric Ryan Crider has been claiming just that.

Crider, of Holts Summit in central Missouri, is currently serving a 90-year prison sentence on three counts of first-degree child molestation in Callaway County. Crider was 32 at the time he sexually abused his victim in December 2014. She was thirteen.

Or was she?

Crider, who is represented by a public defender, appealed his conviction on the grounds that the Callaway County prosecutors failed to prove his victim was younger than fourteen at the time he was accused of abusing her. In his appeal, Crider argues that, under Missouri law, her age should be calculated from her date of conception, not her date of birth. As support, he cites a 1986 statute that declares, "The life of each human being begins at conception."

First of all: Yes, Missouri law really does weigh in on the contentious matter of when life begins, though the law's pro-life authors surely never envisioned it would be invoked by a child molester in court.

Anyway, why should a nine-month difference in age matter in Crider's conviction? Well, under Missouri law, a single charge of first-degree child molestation carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years, but the statute is specifically limited to crimes committed against victims under fourteen.

If Crider prevailed on appeal, he could conceivably seek a new trial, one in which he'd face charges for second-degree child molestation. At the time of he was charged, second-degree molestation carried a maximum sentence of four years. Crider could push to be re-sentenced, and he'd face a maximum of twelve years in prison, not 90.

The three-judge panel of the state appeals court was not swayed. In fact, its ruling, issued Tuesday, cites a previous, unsuccessful attempt to make the same argument. In that earlier case, the enterprising legal mind was a 24-year-old politician one year shy of the minimum age to be certified as a candidate in the August 1990 primary for the Missouri House. The political hopeful's argument was rejected on the grounds that, basically, it was dumb and numbers don't work that way.

Ruling on Crider's attempt to weasel out of decades of prison time, Judge Lisa White Hardwick writes that the convicted abuser "concedes on appeal that if [his victim's] age is determined by her date of birth, the State presented sufficient evidence to support his convictions for first-degree child molestation."

Hardwick's ruling also quotes the 1990 decision, which notes, quite incisively, "Age has always been calculated from the date of birth."

It's worth noting that even if Crider's somehow made this argument stick, prosecutors in Callaway County may have had separate grounds to charge him with first-degree child molestation. After he was sentenced in 2017, the Jefferson City News Tribune reported that prosecutors had enhanced the charges, from class B to class A, based on Crider's prior conviction for child molestation in 2010 in Pettis County.

Crider was out on parole when he assaulted his latest child victim in 2015. Considering his current 90-year sentence, it's almost certain that he won't have a chance to assault another.

Editor's note: The story has been changed after publication to reflect that Crider's appeal (which was unsuccessful) could have netted him a new sentence under the 2014 version of second-degree child molestation. We regret the error.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com