By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A morning spent selecting a jury led to testimony Tuesday afternoon in the trial of a Mercer County man facing multiple charges including sexual assault and possession of child pornography.
John Daniel Spaulding, 41, of the Montcalm area, was arrested in October 2013 and charged with five counts of sexual assault first degree, one count of attempt to commit a felony, one count of sexual abuse first degree, and 50 counts of possession of material depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The two female victims were ages 3 and 14 at the time of the alleged incidents, according to court records.
A hearing was conducted Jan. 29 before Circuit Court Judge William Sadler after Spaulding’s attorney, Harold Wolfe, moved for a change of venue, arguing that his client could not get a fair trial in Mercer County due to extensive coverage by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and other local media. Sadler decided to see whether a jury could be impaneled before considering a change of venue.
Jury selection began 9 a.m. Tuesday with the selection of 42 potential jurors. This jurors pool was reduced as Sadler asked a variety of questions including whether they believed being charged with a crime meant that a person was guilty, and whether any of them had read stories in the Telegraph or on social media websites such as Facebook, or had seen stories on local television about the case.
None of the jurors raised their hands when Sadler asked if they had read anything about the case in social media. Approximately 11 potential jurors raised hands when asked if they subscribed to the Telegraph, and five others said they read copies of it and visited its website regularly.
Wolfe and Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler also asked potential juror questions such as whether they knew potential witnesses or had ever worked in law enforcement. Both the prosecution and defense later struck several jurors from the list. A jury of 12 with five men and seven women were sworn in before noon and received their instructions from Judge Sadler.
After returning from a lunch break, the prosecution and defense made their opening statements to the jury.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t going to be fun for anyone,” Sitler warned the jury. “This is an ugly case.”
The case involves children being sexually exploited and sexually abused, Sitler said. One person connected with the case, Kimberly Cox, 38, of Nemours has already pleaded guilty. Cox was Spaulding’s friend and sexual partner for several years, Sitler added.
The case began in April 2013 when Cox’s boyfriend at that time pawned a laptop computer at Gold & Pawn in Bluefield. The store’s manager found “very disturbing” child pornography images on it while preparing it for sale and contacted the Bluefield Police Department. Some of the images included the girls under Cox’s care.
Sitler said Cox sent the pictures “to satisfy Mr. Spaulding’s desires, to satisfy his cravings.”
Fifty child pornography images were discovered in a laptop computer found at Spaulding’s home in July 2012 when the West Virginia State Police executed a search warrant there, he said. One witness, Stephanie Lloyd of Abingdon, Va., who worked for the West Virginia State Police as a digital forensic analyst, testified she had found the images on Spaulding’s laptop, and that no attempt had been made to erase them. The jurors viewed the pictures on a television that was turned toward them so the public could not see the children. Sitler said the photographs do not show Spaulding with the children, but added that Cox would testify how she made pictures and sent them to Spaulding.
Besides the child pornography, Spaulding also faces charges involving the sexual assault of a 3-year-old girl in February or early March 2012 at a Bluefield motel. Evidence in the form of texts would show how Cox and Spaulding arranged the meeting, Sitler said.
“We don’t have photographs of that, but we have the sworn testimony from Ms. Cox,” Sitler said.
In his opening statement, Wolfe challenged Cox’s credibility. “These are all false charges. They are charges, I submit to you, are totally unfounded,” he said.
Cox created false identities on the Internet in order to manipulate Spaulding and other people, Wolfe said. In Spaulding’s case, she presented herself as a wealthy, pretty blond.
The allegations against Spaulding did not occur until Cox found herself in trouble about the pictures on her laptop computer, Wolfe said.
“All of Kimberly Cox’s stories collapsed. She is caught. Stick a fork in her, and she’s done,” Wolfe said. “She cannot explain the images.” Cox had an accomplice that helped her take the photos, he stated.
Cox sent the images to Spaulding’s computer “to make him a patsy,” he said, adding he would tell the jury facts that were “the wrecking ball” to the prosecution’s case.
The trial continues today before Judge Sadler.