A Pinyon Pines man was sentenced Friday to 143 years to life in state prison for molesting an underage relative over the course of more than eight years.
An Indio jury deliberated two days last December before finding Stanford James Stelle III, 42, guilty of 13 felonies: 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.
Pinyon Pines is in the mountainous area of Riverside County above Palm Desert.
Stelle, 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.
The victim, now in her early 20s, cried as she addressed the defendant during his sentencing hearing at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.
“Stan, you know it’s true and it hurts that you are not telling the truth,” she said, reading a brief statement she prepared. “You took my security away from me, and it just hurts, but I want you to know, for my sake, I forgive you. If I don’t, I will never move on.”
The young woman was the first witness to be called for the prosecution when the trial got underway in November. She detailed to the jury her experience, saying the acts of molestation 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 her while attempting downplay what she experienced.
“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.”
He can also be heard referring to another family member who endured similar assaults when she was younger in an attempt to calm the victim down when she was crying.
“It’s not all that uncommon. It’s pretty normal … it happens all the time,” he said.
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 handed over 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 in his trial, 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.
Dolan unsuccessfully sought a new trial for Stelle just before the sentence was handed down Friday, alleging his client suffered from mental illness.
Stelle was previously found mentally incompetent to stand trial and was transferred to a state mental hospital for treatment. Criminal proceedings were later restarted after the court found his competency had been restored.
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, the 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.
“For me this has been my whole life,” the victim said in court on Friday. “I don’t know anything else.”