A young woman, who testified Monday that a male relative molested her weekly for more than a decade in the San Jacinto Mountain community of Pinyon Pines near Palm Springs, cried on the stand as she recounted the abuse that she said started when she was 5 years old.
“He told me it was normal, that it happened in every family,” she said.
The woman, who is now in her early 20s, was the first witness called by the prosecution in the trial of Stanford James Stelle III, who was arrested in 2015 on allegations that he sexually assaulted her from 2003 up until 2012, when she was 13. The Riverside County town of Pinyon Pines in California is about 30 miles from Palm Springs.
According to Deputy District Attorney Gypsy Yeager, the alleged abuse came to light when the victim was 16 years old. Yeager said the girl and her mother were having a conversation two days before Thanksgiving 2014 about her interest in dating an older man.
The mother eventually alerted law enforcement after several counseling sessions with the victim, defendant and other family members, the prosecutor said.
“This has broken up the entire family,” Yeager said in her opening statement at the Larson Justice Center in Indio in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs. “It is not a feel good story that has a happy ending.”
Stelle’s attorney, John Patrick Dolan, opted not to give an opening statement.
The 41-year-old Pinyon Pines resident faces a potential life sentence if convicted of six counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, one count of committing sex acts on a child under 10 years old and three counts each of oral copulation on a minor and lewd acts on a child under 14 years by using force.
The trial is expected to last about three weeks, according to prosecutors.
According to a declaration in support of the arrest warrant prepared by a Riverside County sheriff’s investigator, the alleged victim told authorities she was molested by Stelle at several locations on a weekly basis over a period of several years. One of the acts allegedly occurred during a birthday party for a 91-year-old relative, court papers say.
The declaration alleges that in March 2015, after the molestation had stopped, the victim and Stelle spoke over the phone, and he admitted to molesting her. During the call, he allegedly said he would “take it all back” if he could and said “he was seeking help from a doctor for his problems,” the document alleges. He was charged 10 days after the call, court records show.
Stelle, who has no felony convictions, was previously found mentally incompetent to stand trial and was transferred to a state mental hospital for treatment. Criminal proceedings were restarted last year after the court found his competency had been restored.
Stelle remains behind bars on $1 million bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.