Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 15, 2014

Quest for justice in high-profile case filled with twists and challenges

A drawn-out court case involving claims of sexual assault on a 3-year-old, child pornography, fake social media personas and much “he-did/she-did” testimony came to a close last week with the sentencing of a Montcalm man to an essential life-in-prison term.

John Spaulding, 41, was sentenced to 75 years behind bars last Wednesday by Mercer County Circuit Judge William Sadler on multiple sexual assault and possession of child pornography charges.

But the road to that hearing was anything but simple. A seemingly pathological liar co-defendant, last-minute change-of-venue request and not one, but two, trials were among the tribulations facing prosecutors in their quest for justice.

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The case came on our radar last year when we heard about Spaulding and Kimberly Cox, 38, of Nemours, being charged with the sexual assault of a 3-year-old and 14-year-old, as well as being in possession of child pornography.

In November of 2013, Cox entered a plea deal to first-degree sexual assault and sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian. She later testified against Spaulding.

During her plea hearing, Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said that the state would have shown at trial how in the summer of 2012, a laptop computer sold to a pawnshop contained explicit images of Cox and a 3- to 4-year-old girl. The pawnshop’s employees found the photographs while preparing the laptop for sale and notified the West Virginia State Police.

Cox had made and sent the images at Spaulding’s behest, and Spaulding continued to pressure Cox to get more explicit images of children, Sitler said. West Virginia State Police troopers executing a search warrant on Spaulding’s home on July 26, 2012, found a laptop computer under a pillow. The computer contained more sexually explicit photographs of children.

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The high-profile case generated much publicity, and so I wasn’t shocked to receive a subpoena in January for a change of venue hearing in Spaulding’s case. However, I was a little surprised when a column I had written about another sexual abuse case involving former PikeView High School Coach Jonathan Kirk was admitted as evidence.

Spaulding’s attorney, Harold B. Wolfe II, argued that my column represented the public’s attitude toward making plea agreements with defendants like his client, and that Bluefield Daily Telegraph readers had already convicted him.

“This case has generated much more publicity and comment in the social media than any murder case I’ve heard,” Wolfe said. “The social media pretty much universally condemns Mr. Spaulding and convicts him before we have submitted the first piece of evidence.”

Ultimately, the change of venue motion was denied.

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Spaulding’s case went to trial in February, but three days of testimony ended in a mistrial when one of the jurors became ill.

A second trial was held in April, and testimony by Cox shocked readers. She told the court that she twice arranged sexual encounters at the Economy Inn, a Bluefield motel, in February 2012 between Spaulding and a 3-year-old girl in her care. Cox also testified that Spaulding had a sexual interest in her daughter and requested explicit photographs of her. Cox said she shot photographs on a cell phone and sent them to him.

But it was other testimony by Cox that led to doubt and confusion. Cox testified that she met Spaulding when he became a friend to “Anna,” a false identity she created on Facebook and other social media.

Cox said that she became Spaulding’s friend and helped him on his quest to find Anna. She accompanied him on multiple trips to North Carolina, Charleston, Beckley and other destinations to find Anna, and sometimes pretended to be Anna both by text and on the telephone.

Cox testified that Spaulding proposed to the fictional woman. During her testimony, Cox said she made other fictional identities, male and female, on the Internet and generated text conversations between them and herself.

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Despite Cox’s lies, as characterized by Judge Sadler during last week’s sentencing, Spaulding was found guilty of three charges of first-degree sexual assault and 50 charges of possession of child pornography.

Sadler characterized the case as “a perfect storm” of two “perverse personalities.” Cox’s motive was a relationship with Spaulding, and “she would do anything and everything (to get it), including the exploitation of a 3-year-old child,” he said. Had the two not come together, the crimes probably would not have occurred.

Sadler cited a number of text messages between Cox and Spaulding that “didn’t accidentally occur,” while also noting Spaulding and Cox were found guilty of “basically, arranging a premeditated, pre-deliberated, thought-out, planned sexual assault on a 3-year-old child.”

“Society will demand justice,” Sadler said, minutes before sentencing Spaulding to 75 years in prison.

Agreed, Judge Sadler. Agreed.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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