A 41-year-old man who allegedly molested an underage relative for more than eight years in the San Jacinto Mountain community of Pinyon Pines is expected to take the stand Wednesday in his own defense.
Stanford James Stelle III of Pinyon Pines, who was arrested in 2015, is accused of sexually assaulting the girl from 2003, when she was 5 years old, until 2012, when she was 13.
Prosecution testimony wrapped up Tuesday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, and defense attorney John Patrick Dolan was expected to begin presenting his case on Wednesday.
The alleged victim testified last week that the defendant molested her weekly for a period of years in Pinyon Pines. She cried on the stand as she recounted her experience.
“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, which is expected to last another two weeks.
Deputy District Attorney Gypsy Yeager alleged in her opening statement that the 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, who a sheriff’s investigator said was about 20 years older than her.
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. “It is not a feel-good story that has a happy ending.”
The defendant 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.
According to a declaration in support of an 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. One of the last acts 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 in a recorded conversation, when 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’s trial is one of the few slated to go forward for at least the next several weeks in Riverside County amid an order issued Monday barring new jury trials from beginning due to a second surge in COVID-19 cases.
The order, set to remain in effect until Dec. 31, forbids new jury trials from starting, but does not affect ones already in progress, which will be addressed on a case-by-case basis, according to the Riverside County Superior Court.
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.
The defendant remains behind bars on $1 million bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.