Exposing significant patterns of abuse spanning a decade, six women spoke out against their abuser in court Thursday and saw him sentenced to prison.
Their stories showed the methods that Eliot Ryan Rutledge used to manipulate his victims, and led to his April 2019 arrest while in a drug rehab facility.
Rutledge, 32, pleaded guilty Thursday to multiple charges of false imprisonment, aggravated assault, battery and criminal damage to property. Floyd County Superior Court Senior Judge Tami Colston sentenced him to 35 years in prison alongside another 58 years on probation once the prison sentence is completed.
“I’m grateful that this part of their journey is over,” Floyd County Assistant District Attorney Natalee Staats said. “I’m so proud of them and so amazed by the strength they have developed.”
Prior to the sentencing, that journey to hold their abuser accountable brought six women together to learn they weren’t alone and weren’t to blame for their, or each other’s, abuse.
That path began in early 2019, when Kaley Parker had enough. She recorded an episode of abuse and shared that recording on her social media page.
Up to that point, several of the women said Rutledge had been able to manipulate former girlfriends into silence through lies and shame. By that time, they were beginning to realize they had nothing to be ashamed of and needed to stop him.
Parker, Lillian Shaw, Cassandra Loh, Cynthia Casey, Kali Crocker and Kaleigh McMillan stepped forward to share their stories and stop the pattern of serial abuse.
Former Rome police investigator Corey Bowers began an investigation and Rutledge was arrested. He’s been in jail without bond since. While he was criminally charged with abusing three of the women, the statute of limitations had run out on the other incidents. But the three other women were also present to share their stories about the pattern of abuse.
They spoke of the manipulation, the physical, sexual, social and emotional abuse. They spoke of being sexually assaulted and his threats to harm himself in a ploy to gain forgiveness for his actions.
At the same time, he would spread falsehoods about the women so others would not take their claims seriously.
‘There will always be a next victim’
For one woman the abuse began while she and Rutledge were both at Cedartown High School in the mid-2000s.
Casey told the court specific instances of how she was abused as a young teen and how Rutledge isolated her from her family and manipulated his position as an upperclassman at the school to convince a teacher to get them alone when she attempted to get away.
On the other end of the timeline, Parker wrote in a statement of how his violent outbursts began in 2019 with him breaking her possessions.
“At least it’s only my picture frame subjected to his rage, not me,” she wrote to the court. That rapidly changed.
She went to wake him up to turn off a television and he began punching the TV. He then pulled out all her clothes and wiped his bloody hands on them. He cornered her and choked her, forcing his fingers down her throat.
At the same time, he manipulated her to make her feel as if it was her fault. She bandaged his hands, the hands that had choked her earlier, and scrubbed bloodstains.
She wrote to the court that for days “she slept in the same bed, under the same covers with the same man who tried to murder me.”
Shaw recounted numerous incidents of physical abuse and manipulation including one time when Rutledge held her down and began hurting her.
“I yelled for him to stop and he didn’t. I begged for him to stop and he didn’t. I told him this was rape and then he stopped and started crying,” she told the judge. Then he wanted her, the victim, to console him and worked to convince her that it was her fault.
She was finally able to break away from Rutledge and went to take out a restraining order against him. He then lied to the court, harassed her and her family online and began spreading false rumors about her in the local theater community.
Rutledge was well known in the Rome theater community and took part in a number of productions as well as in a few locally filmed movies. Some people believed him, Shaw said, and as a result she lost people she’d thought were her friends.
“While this man has no power over me anymore, he’ll forever be a threat to my safety, to my well-being,” Shaw told the judge. “There will always be a next victim.”
Prior to the sentencing Rutledge’s father, Dwain Rutledge — who alongside Rutledge’s mother, listened to the women’s statements — said “we needed to be here to hear this.”
“Our son has mental issues and abuse issues,” he said, asking the court to consider substance abuse and counseling in his son’s sentence. He said they’d known each of the women over the years and welcomed them into their home, but never saw the signs.
“Maybe I failed as a parent,” he said.
Rutledge will be subject to a $10,000 blanket fine as he serves probation and must provide the phone number of anyone he is dating to his probation officer, Colston ordered. He is also court ordered to have no contact with witnesses or victims in the case.
Colston also ordered that police seize and destroy any of Rutledge’s laptops, computers or phones, to eradicate any trace of videos containing abuse that he may have had stored on the devices.
“I’m proud of you all for standing up,” Judge Colston told the women. “Don’t be ashamed of anything that was done or not done. ... You’ve done what you need to do to take your life back.”