Jury finds Stone guilty of sexual assaults

By Nancy McGill

hebronjrnews@windstream.net

The jurors in the Harold Stone trial were guided along a digital trail of photographs, emails and text messages gleaned from Stone’s Apple devices and others obtained in a search warrant from his Davenport home in June of 2015.
Stone, who will turn 60 years old Aug. 20, was found guilty five times Saturday evening in Thayer County District Court on four counts of first degree sexual assault of a child and one count of child abuse. He was declared not guilty on a fifth charge of first degree sexual assault of a child.
At 7:02 p.m., district court clerk Stacey McLaughlin read the jury’s verdicts as six Thayer County Sheriff’s officers flanked the courtroom for the end of what Sheriff David Lee called an emotional trial.
Over 120 pieces of evidence were entered, including a journal Stone kept. According to prosecutors, Stone referred to his victim many times in the journal.  
Jefferson County Sheriff Nels Sorenson, who had been on hand all week for the trial, was also at the courthouse to help lead a handcuffed Stone on his brief walk to jail while he awaits sentencing.
The trial centered on five dates between August 2014 and February 2015 the victim told police Stone assaulted her, but in court she said the assaults were “frequent.” She also said Stone fed her alcohol, wine and champagne.   
Going against her family’s rules, Stone set his then 14-year-old victim up with email and Facebook accounts he had access to.
The victim’s mother testified she told Stone numerous times she did not approve of her daughter communicating electronically through social media, emails or texts as she also kept cellular phones out of her children’s hands.
Throughout the trial, Nebraska Assistant Attorneys General Jason Bergevin and Sandra Allen, along with Investigators Ed Sexton and Kerry Crosby, kept the jury following  the digital path.
Meanwhile, Stone’s defense team, led by attorney Robert Creager, seemed to struggle in its effort to discredit the technological evidence, even with its own specialist on the witness stand, who admitted he had no problem with the state’s evidence he had analyzed.
Rich Hoffman, a technology specialist with UnitedLex, said he was volunteering his time for the defense, contingent upon a $3,500 donation from Creager’s team to a diabetic camp. He testified he didn’t find the consistency he was looking for in Stone’s electronic data.
But when asked by the state whether he had documentation to prove his claims, Hoffman said he didn’t know he would need the documentation.
“I honestly didn’t know they were going to need evidence,” he said.
The state’s path showed Stone was grooming the victim’s family just like he was grooming his victim, who turned 15 years old soon after she met him.
In October of 2014, Stone sent her mother a text message that he was thinking of her daughter.
“She means the world to me. I am not sure what condition I would have been in had you and your family not come into my life. You, my dear, are a treasure,” Stone’s text message read.
Later, in January of 2015 as her parents were becoming more leery of Stone, he texted:
“I am a positive thing in her life and she does not see me as a traitor to her. If you take me out of the picture, you are taking away my potential of being a good influence. I will be here for her. I will not let go of her.”
The trail continued, pointing to Stone’s sexual fixation on the young victim — two photographs in particular, located on Stone’s devices, were discussed at length.
Investigators had traced one of the photographs via GPS coordinates, which revealed it had been taken in the vicinity of Stone’s house in Davenport.
Another photograph, this time a screenshot of a Facetime conversation taken by Stone, was suggestive.
In his testimony, Sexton said he also saw in Stone’s internet history an article by the New York Times, “When the rapist doesn’t see it as rape.”
Tracking the text messages,  the state painted an opportunistic picture for Stone, who was home alone in Davenport on weekdays while his wife worked in Kansas and boarded planes to attend conferences.
In May of 2015, long after the victim’s mother had called the contact between Stone and her daughter off, Stone emailed the victim, telling her he missed her terribly:
“I miss your family so very much. I hope one day soon we can get past this. I hope you are well. I think of the decent, positive times we shared. I’m sorry for the things that have become out of hand.”
May was the month the victim’s mother took her daughter to the Child Advocacy Center to start the forensic process that stemmed from the sexual assaults.
Stone also emailed the victim when he left the state in January of 2015.
“She was telling me things she didn’t want her mother to know,” Stone testified toward the end of the trial.
“You continued to tell her you loved her and missed her terribly,” Bergevin pointed out to Stone. “When you got back, you gave her a gift, this piece of jewelry that has two hearts.”
“I have never seen that before. I don’t know what it is,” Stone answered as Bergevin showed him the jewelry.
Stone continually denied he was involved with the victim, even though he told her he reached out to her as he “spiraled into depression and wanted to commit suicide.”
Stone also told a bizarre story about his victim that was contradicted by the victim herself and a family member, who was a witness.
During one of the last times the victim spent time with Stone, he splurged for a $150 meal in Omaha and mentioned taking the victim and the family member to Las Vegas.
“It was just a comment. Apparently, it was more important to them than it was to me,” Stone said.   
He began his nearly six-month assault spree soon after he met his victim by suggesting to her mother he could help her with her education. The victim was homeschooled.
Stone told the mother he was versed in math and science and eventually, said he would adopt his own curriculum, brushing the mother’s Christian curriculum aside.
Barbara Sturgis, a psychologist in private practice, testified on grooming tactics perpetrators use to gain access to their victims.
They’re willing to take care of the child, she said.
Stone had begged the mother to give her daughter to him, the mother told the jury.
“He said ‘just give her to me. I want her.’ He tried to reassure me everything would be fine if I just gave her to him,” she testified.
Following the jury’s verdicts, Allen asked Thayer County District Court Judge Vicky Johnson that Stone’s bond be revoked because he may be suicidal and a flight risk.
Stone’s attorney, Rick Tast, told Johnson Stone was willing to surrender his passport.
Johnson said Stone stands convicted of four Class 1B felonies as well as child abuse.
“Bond is revoked,” she said.
Johnson ordered a pre-sentencing investigation prior to Stone’s sentencing date Sept. 1 at 10 a.m.
She also thanked the jury of six women and six men  for their dedication.
“Thank you for the research you’ve done in this very important public service. It’s you that make us a strong country,” she said.
In a statement, the attorney general’s office said it is pleased with the guilty verdict.
“We appreciate the work performed by the jury,” the statement read.

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