Jury Declares Stewart Not Guilty
After a two-day trial in the Wetzel County Circuit Court, Charles Stewart, 42, of 1301 Cowhouse Run Road, Sistersville, was found not guilty Tuesday of the charge of count one, sexual assault of the second degree with a minor. Count two, sexual assault of the second degree was dismissed by Judge David Hummel Jr. because it did not have the element to exist.
Defense attorney Jeremiah Gardner, representing Stewart, pointed out in the courtroom during the trial that the minor involved had accused Stewart of the alleged sexual assault, but did not report it to the police until two weeks later. She reported that this alleged incident happened at her mother’s home in New Martinsville.
Assistant Prosecutor Worthy Paul, representing the minor, brought forth during the trial a new twist on the case now happening in many courtrooms, electronic messaging on the MySpace Web site. These pages were printed off by the accuser for Detective Donnie Harris of New Martinsville Police. They showed messaging between her and Stewart.
Paul submitted as evidence the two pages of electronic messages between the accuser and Stewart that happened in January. Judge Hummel stated, “I found these authentic to the extent that they are electronic messages from a data base.”
Gardner explained in the courtroom of how Stewart had spent a few nights at the the accuser’s mother’s home when the roads were bad in January so he could get to work instead of driving back to Cowhouse Road in Sistersville. He went on explaining that in this was an old friendship with the accuser’s mother and that also she let one of her older daughters babysit Stewart’s children for him on a few occasions.
The accuser’s sister took the stand in the courtroom, as Gardner asked her to explain what happened that day of the confrontation of accusing Stewart of the alleged crime. She explained that her sister said something happened to her and she told her mom. She went on explaining that her mom confronted Stewart about the alleged incident, sexual assault, and that her ex-husband was informed to come to the house right away.
The sister also said the accuser had confided that she thought she might be pregnant. The sister said she assumed the father was the accuser’s boyfriend.
Paul called to the stand the accuser’s mother and she stated Steward did spend the night at her home and he slept in the basement on a couch; she was on another couch in the basement along with the minor on a fold out cushion chair.
The accuser took the stand and Gardner asked about the time she told her sister she could possibly be pregnant. He asked, “Your sister thought it was your boyfriend’s?” She didn’t reply. Then Gardner spoke of the alleged incident and asked why she did not tell her mom. He asked her if any testing was done (sexual assault kit) and she replied, “No.”
Paul pointed out she didn’t have any testing done because she waited two weeks to tell anyone.
Gardner called to the witness stand Detective Harris. He stated in the courtroom that he took a verbal interview and the following day took samples from the furniture where the incident took place. This was sent to the crime lab. He stated the results came back with no body fluids. Paul asked Harris when the alleged crime took place. Harris noted it was on Jan. 17 and the testing was not done until Jan. 30. He noted it was past the 72 hours to do a physical exam on the accuser. Harris explained the minor reported she cleaned the area of the alleged incident.
Gardner asked Stewart to take the stand in which he talked about the night of being accused of the crime. “I was in the shower getting ready to go to traffic court, when I heard a voice saying I needed to come downstairs, I thought maybe something happened to one of my kids,” stated Stewart.
He spoke of the accuser’s mother yelling at him about the alleged incident. “I had to be in court in 10 minutes and I am wondering what is going on,” stated Stewart. He explained his children were around and he did not want to get in a confrontation in front of them. He said, “He was sorry for what happened, but did not know or understand what really was going on.” He then explained to the courtroom he came back from court, was confronted by the father who came to his ex-wife’s house by then, and was told to leave. He gathered his children and left.
Stewart told the courtroom he later found out in February the West Virginia State Police were at his mother’s house looking for him, so he went to the station to find out what was going on. From there he stated, he was told he was wanted for sexual assault charges. He gave a statement to WV State Police Trooper Paul Hogan and was arrested for the charges.
Paul brought forth, while Stewart was on the stand, the MySpace pages and messaging between the accuser and Stewart. Stewart explained that he let her be his friend on MySpace so she could look at the pictures of the band he plays with on the weekends. Paul asked about the pages printed out used as evidence and the comment at the end, “Take care babe!!!” Paul asked, “How would you like it if someone messaged that to your own older daughter?” Stewart replied, “Honestly, I don’t know.”
Gardner asked about the alleged incident date of Jan. 17. “Were you in the house then of the accuser?” Stewart replied, “No, it was my ex-wife’s birthday and she wanted me to watch our children then.” He explained he was at his mother and father’s home, and that is his residence now also.
Gardner had a past employer, friends, and Stewart’s mother take the stand on the defendant’s behalf. The mother stated that Stewart was at her home with the his children on Jan. 17.
In closing arguments, Paul told the 12 jury panel to “cut to the chase and take this very seriously,” he followed up by telling the jury to use their common sense. He reminded the jury that Harris, in his line of work, said it was not unusual in these cases to not find evidence. Paul noted the MySpace web page messages between Stewart and the minor were, “Grossly inappropriate.”
Gardner, in closing remarks, reminded the jury that on Jan. 17 Stewart was not at the accuser’s home. “Someone is lying here, things don’t add up,” he stated. He brought forth how the accuser said she cleaned everything up (crime scene) and her mother never noticed. He added of how no DNA was found and how two weeks went by without contacting the police.
He said, “She (the minor) thought she was pregnant, why would her sister come to the conclusion it was her boyfriend’s.”
Hummel reminded the courtroom before the jury comes back in the courtroom that this was a most sensitive issue and he would not tolerate any outburst or an arrest would immediately follow and that person would be taken to the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville.
The jury came back within a hour with a verdict, which Circuit Clerk Sharon Dulaney read of not guilty to count one, sexual assault in the second degree for Charles Stewart. Hummel told him he was free of his bond.