HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) – It is a story nearly 50 years in the making. A rape victim finally receives closure after a 78 year old Madisonville man pleads guilty to 3rd degree rape charges stemming from 1975 on March 27, 2023. The victim, Carmalita Wilkes, says the decision is a culmination of years of patience and perseverance.
“When I found out he pleaded guilty, he admitted what he did,” says Wilkes.
For Wilkes, the guilty plea from Melvin Nicholson, SR was validation after years of being doubted. Wilkes was 15 years old when the rape occurred. Wilkes says Nicholson was her foster sister’s husband, and inappropriate acts would occur when she went to help clean Nicholson’s home.
“He was there and he would do little sneaky stuff and make us feel kind of uncomfortable,” recalls Wilkes.
Wilkes became pregnant as a result of the incident, and Nicholson faced 3rd degree rape charges. Wilkes, however, was forced to give up her baby for adoption and return to her foster home in 1976. By 1978, Nicholson’s indictment was filed away with an option to reinstate in the future by the Hopkins County Circuit Court. Decades would go by, but eventually Wilkes would answer a call she never expected to receive. On the other line, her biological son Chris Savage, the baby she was forced to give away.
“She answered the phone and I was at a loss of words,” says Savage. “I didn’t know what to say at that point, and the only thing I could say at that point was, ‘I think I’m your son’.”
Savage was 40 years old with children of his own when he met Wilkes for the first time in 2017. During that initial meeting, Wilkes informed Savage of her rape.
“I don’t know if I can say hurt or ashamed,” says Savage, “because I realized I was born, I was conceived, in a terrible way.”
Pain turned to determination as Wilkes decided to revisit the rape case in 2021 with DNA testing linking herself, Savage, and Nicholson. Detective Joseph Stratton with the Hopkins County Sheriff’s Department began digging into the decades-old case.
“Quite frankly, this occurred before I was even on this earth,” explains Detective Stratton, “so it puts you behind the times and you have to go back in time to learn about the case and learn about what’s taken place, what has or has not taken place.”
Nicholson was indicted in May of 2022 on 3rd degree rape charges and in March of 2023 was sentenced to 3 years supervised probation and 20 years on the sex offender registry. Wilkes says others believe Nicholson was not punished enough, but she disagrees.
“His jail time is right here when he has to walk around everybody he said he didn’t do it, he has to face those people now. He has to face those people now. And until he takes his last breath, he will always be considered a sexual offender.”
Savage, who was with Wilkes at Nicholson’s sentencing, adds, “To see Melvin Nicholson for the first time in my life, and it be in that circumstance, I had to be there for her.”
Both Wilkes and Savage say they plan to spend more time together in the future. Wilkes says she would like to vacation with her son, and Savage says he hopes to have his adopted and biological families meet one another.