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Former Death-Row Inmate Claude Lee Wilkerson Imprisoned Woman: Cops

by Phil Helsel /  / Updated 

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A former death-row inmate has been charged with keeping a woman captive and sexually assaulting her for months in Colorado, officials said Thursday.

"She’s been through hell and back," Mesa County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Henry Stoffel told NBC station KUSA.

Claude Lee Wilkerson, 61, was arrested in February and charged Monday with 10 counts in all, including first-degree kidnapping, false imprisonment, sexual assault and harboring a minor, according to court documents.

From KUSA: How Claude Wilkerson Got Off Texas Death Row

He is accused of imprisoning a 26-year-old homeless woman since October, at first offering her money to do yard work but later drugging her with a chemical-soaked rag and keeping her chained in his Gateway home, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

The confinement and abuse ended after a sheriff’s deputy spoke with the woman at the cluttered property on Feb. 20 and noticed she seemed increasingly nervous as Wilkerson lingered within earshot, the affidavit said.

"Can you arrest me on my warrant, please?" the woman asked, according to the document. The warrant was only for $50.

"Fifty dollar warrants are something we typically don’t bring people in on, but he felt something was wrong and he needed to get her away from Mr. Wilkinson to find out what was going on," Stoffel told KUSA.

 Claude Wilkerson, 61, of Gateway, Colorado. Mesa County Sheriff's Office

The victim eventually described a nightmare: She said she stayed at Wilkerson’s for a few days when he covered her mouth with a rag that smelled like a chemical, then chained her legs, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

Wilkerson allegedly sexually assaulted her repeatedly, she told investigators. The chains only came off in recent weeks, but the victim said she feared punishment if she tried to leave, police said.

Wilkerson was convicted in a deadly armed robbery in Houston, Texas, in 1979, but was freed from death row four years later over inadmissible evidence, police said.

The sheriff’s deputy went to the Wilkerson home after a caller said another runaway said she had been staying with a man and helped tie up another woman, according to the affidavit.

That caller told investigators that the runaway said Wilkerson claimed he was a shaman, that he saw the devil in her, and eventually planned to marry the victim, the document added.

Wilkerson is being held in lieu of $1 million bail, according to court and jail records.

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