James Stewart’s attorney said in court Monday that the community should be terrified to see the state prosecuting her client on child abuse and human-trafficking allegations.
“Ladies and gentlemen, my client is not guilty of any of these charges and the state’s not going to have any evidence for you,” defense lawyer Stefanie Gulley said in her opening statement. “And frankly anybody who’s a parent should be concerned that anybody could bring these charges against any parent.”
Prosecutors allege that Stewart, 38, forced his now-8-year-old daughter to perform sex acts in order to support his drug habit.
“The evidence will show that not only did he permit (her) to show up to school unfed, dirty,” prosecutor Collin Brennan said. “It’ll show he taught her how to pick pocket, but it will also show that he used her in a sexual manner to receive narcotics.”
According to a criminal complaint, the child told forensic interviewers that Stewart made her inappropriately touch his friends in exchange for “weed and pipes and stuff.”
“I keep saying I don’t want to, but he … forces me to,” she told the interviewer, according to the complaint. The girl is expected to testify at the trial this week before state District Court Judge Cindy Leos. The trial resumes today and will likely continue through Friday.
The Attorney General’s Office launched its investigation after a school employee contacted agents to report her suspicion that the student was being trafficked. School personnel say that the girl regularly came to school unkempt and unbathed, and one day in November 2017 a teacher noticed a bloodstain on a pair of dirty underwear the child had just changed out of.
Gulley said that if asked, every elementary-aged child will say that they’re hungry in hopes of getting a snack. And even she struggles to get her two sons to take a shower every night.
“I don’t know if a teacher’s going to call me tomorrow and say ‘Your kid doesn’t smell right; you’re not taking care of them,’ ” she said.
Agents searched Stewart’s storage shed and found girls’ underwear that contained “three different male DNA detections … one being of the defendant,” Brennan said.
But Gulley told the jury that the samples taken from the underwear were so minuscule they could not be tested against a DNA standard.
“Already the state is leading you down a path that’s just not true,” she said.
The state last week indicted Stewart on three new human trafficking charges that allege three children were panhandling and then giving the money to him. In a separate court document, prosecutors say the new charges are the result of statements from a child who indicated Stewart “would use the profits from the panhandling to support his narcotics habit.”
“While the defendant’s narcotics addiction was known to the state, none of the children had disclosed that the earnings from the children’s panhandling would go directly to the purchase of narcotics,” prosecutors wrote.
Those charges will not be addressed at this week’s trial.