Hephzibah man receives maximum sentence in child molestation case

Robert Gruka

Four consecutive life sentences followed by 135 years in prison was given Tuesday to a man convicted last week of sex crimes against children.

Superior Court Judge Michael Annis followed the state’s recommendation to give the maximum sentence to Robert Gruka, who was found guilty of all charges on his 14-count indictment.

Four of the charges – rape, aggravated child molestation and two counts of aggravated sexual battery – carried life sentences. The least serious charges – five misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor – tacked a year apiece on the sentence. The incest charge brought 50 years in prison, plus 20 years each for four charges of child molestation.

The indictment listed five preteen girls as the victims, but testimony during the three-day trial suggested that as many as eight girls were abused of Gruka during the past 15 years.

“Those are only the ones we know about,” Annis said. “We wonder how many other lives have been robbed of their innocence and ... how many others are bearing the scars of childhood abuse.”

Gruka’s attorney, Peter Johnson, said he was contacted this weekend by one of those victims, who he said expressed dismay over the conviction and doubted Gruka’s guilt.

He also told Annis that one of the 8-year-old victims continued to write Gruka in jail, telling him that she loved him and wanted to know when he was coming home.

Johnson said he cannot reconcile those letters with the way the prosecution has portrayed Gruka as a sexual predator.

“I need to understand how there can be such a difference,” Johnson said. “The child is saying ‘he molested me’ but at the same time professes to love him.”

Gruka staggered slightly where he stood when he heard the name of the victim. After swiping his eyes with back of his hand, he declined to say anything to the judge.

Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine made a plea for Annis to give the maximum sentence, calling Gruka a “monster” who never apologized to the victims.

“This man does not deserve to see the light of day ever again,” Paine said.

Annis said he didn’t have any doubts that the children still loved Gruka. They’re too innocent to know any better; it’s when they grow older and realize the reality of what Gruka did to them that it becomes a very different story, the judge said.

“Sadly, for those children, that’s just normalcy,” Annis said.

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