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‘A Cold and Ruthless Act’: Judge Sentences Ohio Man Who Gunned Down a Father in Front of His Three Kids

Sterling H. Roberts

Sterling H. Roberts

A 39-year-old Ohio man will spend the rest of his life behind bars for executing his girlfriend’s ex-husband in front of the victim’s three young children, federal authorities announced. U.S. District Judge Judge Thomas M. Rose ordered Sterling H. Roberts to serve a life sentence for the 2017 murder of Robert Caldwell.

According to the Department of Justice, Roberts’ girlfriend at the time, Tawnney Caldwell, was in the midst of an ongoing dispute with Robert Caldwell over custody of their children. Roberts and Tawnney, along with four other co-defendants, then collaborated “to plan, execute, and cover-up” Robert Caldwell’s murder.

Sterling Roberts was the only one of the accused defendants to eschew a plea deal and go to trial. An Ohio jury in March found him guilty on one count each of murder and cyberstalking resulting in death.

“This heinous crime continues the American tragedy of children seeing loved ones shot down in front of them,” United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Kenneth L. Parker said in a statement. “Our justice system must work hardest to protect our society’s children by ensuring their physical safety and mental well-being.”

Tawnney in October 2020 pleaded guilty to interstate stalking resulting in death in connection with her ex-husband’s murder. A federal judge sentenced her to 35 years in prison. Sterling Roberts’ brothers Chance Deakin and Christopher Roberts, Tawnney Caldwell’s mother Chandra Harmon, and Tawnney’s step-father James T. Harmon also pleaded guilty to charges related to cyberstalking and murder.

At approximately 6 p.m. on Aug. 15, 2017, Robert Caldwell and his three children left a counseling session in Riverside. As the family was crossing the parking lot, Sterling Roberts approached the group and shot Robert Caldwell multiple times as the kids watched in horror. Robert Caldwell was pronounced dead on the scene.

“Killing a father in front of his children is a cold and ruthless act that deserves a lengthy prison sentence,” FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge J. William Rivers said in a statement. “I applaud the local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that investigated this homicide and the prosecutors who pursued justice for the victim’s family.”

According to a report from the The Ohio State Journal, Sterling Roberts had attempted to kill Robert Caldwell earlier in August 2017, but he failed.

“Earlier in August 2017, Roberts pretended to be a customer in need of stonework and messaged (the ex-husband) to lure him into meeting in Jamestown, Ohio,” law enforcement officials reportedly said. “Roberts, armed with a gun, ambushed [Robert Caldwell], who fled and called 911.”

Sterling and Tawnney then reportedly traveled to Kentucky where they purchased a gun from Tawnney’s step-father. The couple then continued on to Ohio where they obtained a firearm from Sterling’s brothers.

Donald Malarcik, an attorney and member of Sterling Roberts’ legal team, reportedly told McClatchy News that they planned to challenge his client’s conviction and sentence.

“Mr Roberts will appeal the jury’s verdict and sentence of life in prison,” Malarcik told the outlet. “Attorney Jim Fleisher and our team [spent] the first two years of this case fighting the death penalty. We were grateful and relieved when the DOJ agreed not to seek the death penalty in December 2019.”

[image via Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.