A federal judge on Thursday sentenced the ex-wife of a man who was shot and killed in front of three of his kids in Riverside to 35 years in prison and said that he believed she was obsessed with killing him.
U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Rose noted that Tawnney Caldwell, 37, of Centerville, wasn’t the person who pulled the trigger and killed Robert “Bobby” Caldwell, but he said that she drove her family into playing parts in the murder and coverup.
“I believe the evidence shows this determination, this obsession, became a family project,” Rose said. “You, your family, your boyfriend, plotted, conspired and worked together to effectuate that execution of a human being.”
Tawnney Caldwell, her boyfriend Sterling Roberts, Roberts’ brother Chance Deakin, Tawnney Caldwell’s mother Chandra Harmon her ex-husband James T. Harmon are all listed as defendants in the federal criminal case. Everyone except Roberts has pleaded guilty in connection to the case.
Robert Caldwell and his three children left a court-ordered counseling appointment around 6 p.m. Aug. 15, 2017, in Riverside. While crossing the parking lot, Caldwell was shot 12 times in front of his children and died at the scene, according to federal court documents.
The accused shooter is Roberts, who has pleaded not guilty and his case is pending.
Tawnney Caldwell was sentenced after she pleaded guilty to interstate stalking in connection to the death of Robert Caldwell, with whom prosecutors said she had an ongoing custody dispute.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors had recommended a sentence range of 20 to 35 years. She had previously faced charges with punishments that included the death penalty before a Supreme Court ruling took the punishment off the table in the case.
Prosecutors said Thursday in court that Tawnney Caldwell still could have faced life in prison before the plea deal, but Robert Caldwell’s family agreed to the negotiations to bring closure. They asked the court to sentence her to the 35-year maximum.
Tawnney Caldwell said during the sentencing hearing that she was sorry.
“I clearly see this was wrong, I don’t understand how I thought this was right,” she said.
Defense attorney Jon Paul Rion told the court that it was Roberts who felt it was his fault that Robert Caldwell won custody of the three boys and that it was Roberts who led the criminal activity. He also noted that Tawnney Caldwell was subjected to prostitution at the age of 15, which clouded her decision-making.
Rose noted that the slaying was the second time Roberts allegedly tried to kill Robert Caldwell, the first time happening early that same month. Even with the failed attempt, Rose said Tawnney Caldwell and Roberts pressed on.
“This obsession, based upon the information, was not a spur of a moment decision,” Rose said. “It was not a reaction to anything that would remotely fathom such a hideous response. It was thought out, it was planned, it was premeditated.”
He also said there were no boundaries Tawnney Caldwell wasn’t willing to cross to see Robert Caldwell dead — saying he believed that she knew the boys would be with their father at the time of his killing.
“This court understands you did not shoot those bullets into Mr. Caldwell,” Rose said. “But the court is convinced, but for you, this tragedy — that trigger may have never been pulled. Those shots may have never been fired. And Bobby Caldwell would still be alive.”