NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Nashville woman finally has justice after a Kentucky man was found guilty of rape — a crime that took place 48 years ago.
This story began in 1975. That’s when Carmelita Wilkes was 16 years old and living in foster care with her siblings in Kentucky.
“We were placed in a foster home due to neglect from our mom.”
According to the Smyrna grandmother of seven, she was raped and impregnated by Melvin Nicholson, who is now 78 years old.
“And he told me that if I told anyone, they won’t believe you because you have been noted as the problem child.”
According to Wilkes, she reported the crime to her social workers with the state, but Wilkes says she never spoke to a police detective.
The Hopkins County Sheriff’s Department sent out the following press release regarding the case:
“Hopkins County Circuit Court records reflected Nicholson had been arrested in June of 1976 for Rape in the 3rd Degree. Nicholson subsequently posted bail which yielded his release from jail. In the months that followed the arrest, Carmalita gave birth to a male child which was removed from her in 1976 shortly after his birth. Hopkins County Circuit Court Criminal proceedings followed Nicholson’s release from jail until 1978. In June of 1978, the Hopkins County Circuit Court indictment was filed away with leave to reinstate. From 1978 to 2021, the criminal case did not have further proceedings.”
According to Wilkes, nobody believed the story of the troubled 16-year-old who says she was never even asked to come to court or talk to a police officer.
“I was a liar, I was shamed, that never happened, it was someone else, he even signed under oath in 1976 that he never touched me.”
After her baby was born, Wilkes says she was sent to a home in Nashville for unwed mothers.
She says the child was taken from her and put up for adoption and she never saw the baby boy again.
Because the case was sealed, Wilkes says she tried but could never find out what happened to her son.
Then in 2017, something amazing happened. She was contacted by that baby, now a grown man with children of his own.
Christopher Savage, who lives in Franklin, Kentucky, says he petitioned the court to find out who his real mother was, and he got up the nerve to call Wilkes.
“It was the most unnerving call I ever made,” Savage said. “All I could say is, ‘I think I am your son.’ And she said, ‘You are my son.'”
On Sept. 8, 2017, the mother and son met at a Kentucky mall for the first time in 41 years.
“He came toward me and I came toward him and we hugged and hugged and hugged, and we cried and cried,” Wilkes said.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Savage added.
Wilkes told her newly found son about the rape and the court proceedings.
“I told him the story of what happened, and he said,’ oh no, something is going to have to be done about this,'” Wilkes recounted.
As it turns out, the reunion of mother and son provided not only love but new-millennium investigators with the DNA evidence they needed to retry the 1975 rape case.
Wilkes secured a legal firm, which contacted the Kentucky investigators.
“In May of 2021, the Hopkins County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office was contacted by the Nashville Tennessee branch of Burr & Forman LLP. Burr & Forman LLP made a request to the Commonwealth’s Office to reinvestigate a criminal matter from 1975. Burr & Forman LLP indicated the request was on behalf of their client, Carmalita Wilkes. The Commonwealth’s Office contacted the Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office and the case was assigned to the investigations division.”
DNA was obtained from Wilkes and Savage. According to the sheriff’s department, a warrant was obtained for Nicholson’s blood.
The samples were sent to the Kentucky State Police Central Crime lab and analyzed, where they were a match.
“After the lab completed their findings, it was determined that the 1975 allegations were consistent showing that Christopher was the child conceived during the sex offense,” the sheriff’s press release concluded.
Nicholson was sentenced for third-degree felony rape on Monday.
The 78-year-old’s penalty is three years of supervised probation and 20 years on the sex offender registry. He is also ordered to have no contact with the victim.
The attorneys for Wilkes tell News 2 Kentucky law has no statute of limitations for felonies.
“The day she walked out of the courthouse, she said, ‘I am free.’ I guess you could equate that to winning the lottery,” Savage added.
Wilkes urged all victims to never give up.
“It’s never too late, let your voice be heard. If I can heal someone from the hurt and pain I went through, from 40 years, you can get help too.”