An 80-year-old Conway man will spend the next three years behind bars for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl. 

Thomas Edwards was sentenced to five years in prison, with two years suspended. Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson sentenced Edwards on Thursday.

Edwards’ lawyer, Frank Shaw, requested that Edwards receive probation and remain on house arrest because of Edwards’ age and health issues. 

According to Shaw, Edwards is a lung cancer survivor and is awaiting another lung diagnosis. He also suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and other pulmonary problems, Shaw said.

"Due to the defendant’s very poor health and advanced age, I requested house arrest and an ankle monitor for whatever length of time the court deemed necessary," Shaw explained.

"This was a tragedy for the victim as well as the defendant and his family. It is unfortunate that these things occur. However, it occurs a lot more than most people realize. The general public does not know how often children are abused in Faulkner County."

Ted Thomas, deputy prosecuting attorney, argued that if Edwards was healthy enough to molest the child, he was healthy enough to spend time in state prison.

Cody Hiland, prosecuting attorney, said that he is pleased with the sentence and believes that Edwards’ age should not have been a factor in his sentencing.

"In his statement to police, Mr. Edwards admitted that he had molested children on three other occasions years ago that went unreported," Hiland said.

"I understand there may be some that question our pressing for prison time given that the man is 80 years old and has health concerns. However, it’s our position that he and other sex offenders shouldn’t get a pass from facing the consequences of their actions because he happens to be older and in bad health. We have a victim that deserves justice."

Edwards admitted to Conway police in 2011, when he was arrested, that he touched the victim inappropriately while she was at his home with her mother for a yard sale. La Tresha Woodruff, police public information officer, said Edwards was left alone in the home with the child while the girl’s family members were holding the sale outside.

"The child was inside the suspect’s home at some point during the sale with Edwards while her mother and aunt were outside," Woodruff explained. "The child’s mother told officers that her daughter began acting oddly and was in a hurry to leave the sale, which is what made her (mother) question the child’s actions. The following day, when the child told her mother what had happened at the sale, she brought the child to the police department to file a report."

Edwards admitted during the police investigation that he molested other children over the years.

"Edwards admitted that he had touched others inappropriately over the years," Woodruff said. "The detective interviewing Edwards worked very hard to create an environment where the suspect would tell the truth about the incident involving the victim; however, he did not have any indication that there had been more victims until the suspect began giving details about past incidents."

Edwards will be eligible for parole in nine months. He will have to register as a sex offender upon his release.

(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at candie.beck@thecabin.net)