The incident occurred just 18 months after the defendant, Johnny Royston, was released from prison for voluntary manslaughter and arson, a factor Sullivan County Criminal Court Judge Robert Montgomery cited in the Thursday sentencing. The punishment he handed down is the maximum available by law, effectively becoming a life sentence at Royston's age.
"This was a heinous crime," said Sullivan County District Attorney Gen. Barry Staubus after the hearing. "This defendant bound, strangled, raped, and beat her — basically tortured her and traumatized her."
The incident occurred Aug. 23 of 2010. Royston was convicted in May of this year on charges of attempted second-degree murder, two counts of aggravated rape, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated kidnapping.
The victim is a longtime acquaintance of Royston's through family and friends. She testified that during the incident she awoke naked on the floor of Royston's camper, 6143 Highway 421, bound with ropes around her neck, wrists and ankles. She said he was raping her and tightened the ropes as she struggled, with her drifting in and out of consciousness several times.
In response to her pleas to allow her to clean herself, Royston reportedly led her to the bathroom and handed her a coffee pot with water. When Royston turned his head, according to the victim's testimony, she swung the pot and stuck him in the head.
Royston, still gripping the rope around the woman, fell backwards. She said she fell on top of him, jabbing him with glass from the coffee pot handle. After convincing a heavily bleeding Royston to let her go she fled to the neighboring cabin of Royston's landlord.
During the trial prosecutors with the Sullivan County District Attorney's Office argued Royston plotted the kidnapping, rape and attempted murder. Prior to the incident at Royston's camper the two had went to O'Mainnin's bar on State Street in Bristol, where the woman said she once left a beer unattended.
The woman testified that she later felt "really drowsy and disoriented" and feel asleep in the back of Royston's car. The next thing she remembered was awakening on the floor of Royston's camper naked and bound.
Following the sentencing the victim and her family hugged prosecutors of the case, visibly relieved a sentence had been handed down. The hearing had been set and delayed twice in October; once because defense attorney Randy Fleming was unavailable, later because he said he didn't receive a letter Royston had mailed with a list of requested witnesses.
It briefly appeared Thursday that postponement would occur again. Though Royston didn't testify during his May trial, Fleming called him to the stand. He peppered Royston with questions on his upbringing, education and their own attorney client relationship, drawing several objections from Gen. Staubus.
When Fleming and Royston began claiming his innocence in the crimes he has been convicted, and that legal documents had been taken from Royston that would have helped him prepare for sentencing, the exchanges became excessively heated.
"We're sitting here and we're doing the same thing over and over," said Staubus, adding Royston will do whatever possible to create and endless cycle of setting and resetting sentencing.
At one point Judge Montgomery indicated the hearing may be reset once again, drawing a muffled curse from the victim and murmurs from her family. A brief recess was called, after which Royston returned to the stand and was asked by Judge Montgomery if he wanted to proceed.
"Yeah," he responded. "I'm gonna get a raw deal anyway, so let's go along with it."
Three witnesses for the defense were in court to take the stand, but Fleming said Royston didn't want them to testify.
"He knows you're going to send him to jail for a long time today," said Fleming. "But he wanted these people to hear his story."
At the conclusion of sentencing Fleming announced he would seek a new trial for Royston. A hearing on that motion has been tentatively set for May 1.
Royston’s previous prison sentence stemmed from a November 1998 arrest and subsequent conviction in the death of his girlfriend, Debbie Kay Hyatt, 20.
Firefighters found Hyatt’s body in the back bedroom of Royston’s burned trailer, 267 Old Carden Hollow Road. It had been padlocked from the outside, with Hyatt said to have died of "multiple stab wounds to the head and neck area." She had to be identified through dental records.
Initially charged with first-degree murder and arson, Royston pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and arson in May 2000. His sentence expired in February 2009 and he was released, with the attempted murder and rape at the camper on Highway 421 occurring 18 months later.