Samuel Ellis, 50, pleaded guilty three years ago of statutory rape and first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Clayton police nabbed Ellis in a 2004 sting targeting online predators. After his arrest, police and his wife learned he had an ongoing sexual relationship with his stepdaughter.
Ellis maintains his relationship with Kathryn, now 20, was an affair that didn't start until she was a teenager. Kathryn said the sexual abuse began when she was 9 and lasted until she was 15.
Now, she and her mother, Andrea Welborne, are fighting to keep their Clayton home and their land while getting Ellis out of their lives.
Ellis filed for divorce last year when Welborne asked him to grant her power of attorney. Under state law, he is entitled to half the value of the family's home because his name is on the deed.
"It sickens me to think he might get anything of ours again, that we have to fight for this," Kathryn said. "It's just not right. It may be the law, but it doesn't seem morally right."
WRAL News usually doesn't identify victims of sexual assault, but Kathryn wanted to go public to push for a change to state law so others don't face similar situations.
"If there was a law out there that, when a crime is committed against a family, the perpetrator would have no right to anything of the victim's family, that should cover most of the grounds," she said.
Ellis said he is seeking half of the marital assets to guarantee he gets full value of his belongings, such as a vehicle, antiques and music equipment. He says he plans to put half of his share into an account for Kathryn to get when she turns 25, and he'll use the other half to help pay for his medical co-payments in prison.
"It was never my intention to seek divorce, and it was never my intention to seek half of the house," he said in the telephone interview from Maury Correctional Institution in Greene County.
Welborne said she bought the house with her family's money, which Raleigh divorce lawyer Lee Rosen said could factor into a judge's ruling in the final settlement. Still, a court fight is costly, and Welborne faces an uphill battle, says Rosen, who isn't involved in the case.
"Once you title things jointly, the idea is that it ought to be divided or considered for division," he said. "Parties contribute differently (to the marriage). It's never black and white about who contributed and who didn't. So, long ago the courts said that, once you title a house jointly, we're going to divide it equally, and we're not going to spend a lot of time delving into the reasons that this asset should or shouldn't go to one spouse or the other."
In dozens of letters to his wife and stepdaughter, Ellis tells them they all will be reunited eventually and signs off with phrases like "I wish I could come home," "for always" and "sealed with a kiss." Both women said they just want to move on with their lives but fear the divorce settlement could leave them without their home.
"I've already paid in ways I can't get back. When is it going to stop?" Welborne said.
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