A judge's gavel. Photo via Pixabay.
A judge’s gavel. Photo via Pixabay.

A 42-year-old man was convicted Thursday of more than a dozen felony charges for molesting an underage relative for more than eight years in the San Jacinto Mountain community of Pinyon Pines near Palm Springs.

An Indio jury deliberated two days before finding Stanford James Stelle III guilty 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 Pinyon Pines resident, who was arrested in 2015, sexually assaulted the girl from 2003, when she was 5 years old, until 2012, when she was 13, according to prosecutors.

Riverside County Super Court Judge Dale Wells scheduled a Feb. 26 sentencing hearing for Stelle, who faces a maximum life sentence.

The trial got underway Nov. 30 at the Larson Justice Center in Indio. The victim in the case, now in her early 20s, was the first witness to be called for the prosecution. She cried on the stand as she detailed her experiences, which she said were weekly occurrences.

“He told me it was normal, that it happened in every family,” she said.

Deputy District Attorney Gypsy Yeager played for jurors a recording of a phone call in which Stelle can be heard apologizing to the young woman.

“I would go back in a time machine if I could,” Stelle told her in the March 2015 call. “Nothing was worth making you feel bad. I never thought you would.”

Despite being prodded to divulge additional information, Stelle refused to go into much detail over the phone, but at no time — according to the audio clips played by the prosecution — did he deny sexually assaulting her.

The victim then handed the recording to Riverside County sheriff’s investigators, and charges were filed against the 6-foot-5-inch-tall defendant 10 days later.

The defendant took the stand in his own defense last Wednesday, testifying that the charges against him stemmed from a blackmail scheme perpetrated by the victim’s methamphetamine-addicted mother.

“She told me I could afford $100,000 because it was going to cost a lot more than that if I went to jail,” Stelle said.

Defense attorney John Patrick Dolan also told jurors that the allegations were concocted by the girl’s drug-addicted murder. Dolan alleged she had sought — unsuccessfully — to extort vast sums of money from his client because he is the beneficiary of a trust worth a considerable amount of money.

According to Yeager, the abuse came to light when the victim was 16 years old. The victim and her mother were having a conversation two days before Thanksgiving 2014 about her interest in dating an older man at the time, the prosecutor said.

The mother eventually alerted law enforcement after several counseling sessions with the victim, defendant and other family members, the prosecutor said.

One of the last acts occurred during a birthday party for a 91-year- old relative, according to court papers.

Stelle, who has a previous marijuana-related felony conviction, 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 in lieu of $1 million bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning pending sentencing.

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