By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A second trial for a Montcalm man facing charges of first-degree sexual assault and 50 counts of possession child pornography started Monday with opening statements and testimony in Mercer County Circuit Court.
The first trial of John Spaulding, 41, of Montcalm, ended with a mistrial in February after a juror became ill during deliberations. One alternate juror had taken the place of a juror who called in sick during the trial, and the second one had been dismissed just before deliberations started. Circuit Court Judge William Sadler offered to let the jury resume the next day, but the jurors determined they could not continue. Sadler reviewed state law and said an alternate could not be recalled after deliberations were underway.
After selecting a jury Monday morning, the prosecution and defense made their opening statements. Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler thanked the jurors for serving, and said that the trial getting underway “explores the darker side of the pervasive modern electronic addiction.”
Spaulding is facing 50 counts of possession of material depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. He has also been charged with six counts of first-degree sexual assault and one count of attempt to commit a felony. The two female minors involved were 14 and 3 years old at the time of the alleged incidents.
Sitler saidit began in late 2005 and early 2006 when Spaulding met a false social media website persona called “Anna Barber,” who was actually Kimberly Cox, 38, of Nemours. Cox pretended she knew the fictional Anna Barber.
During then next few years, Cox started a relationship with Spaulding while helping him try to contact Anna. Despite never meeting Anna Barber personally, Spaulding drove across the eastern United States trying to find her, Sitler said. Spaulding even bought a wedding ring and had her name tattooed on his body.
“But in 2010 and early 2011, John Spaulding’s suspension of disbelief began to crumble,” Sitler said. “After four-and-a-half to five years, he had never once met her in the flesh.”
Cox used a “desperate ploy” to keep Spaulding’s attention by “playing on his interest in child pornography. In 2011, Cox sent Spaulding sexually explicit photographs of her 14-year-old daughter.
“Once John Spaulding’s interest became piqued, he became persistent in asking for more,” Sitler said.
Eventually, Cox arranged sexual contacts in February 2012 with the 3-year-old daughter of a family friend, telling the family the child was going to a birthday party, Sitler stated. Spaulding and Cox exchanged thousands of emails, and thousands of child pornography images, many of them commercially available, were found in his computer.
In April 2012, the case began when a Bluefield pawnshop found child pornography on a laptop Cox’s boyfriend had pawned. The Bluefield Police Department was notified, and the case later went to the West Virginia State Police.
Spaulding’s attorney, Harold B. Wolfe II, said much of the case against his client depended on Cox’s allegations, which were “nothing but the word of a convicted child molester with a history of lies.”
Cox pleaded guilty in November 2012 to sexual assault and sexual abuse by a custodian. She must serve at least 25 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole, and must register as a sex offender for the rest of her life.
Wolfe said the Anna identity was one of approximately 60 identities Cox created on the Internet to fool “gullible” people like Spaulding, and even created fake conversation online as well as letters and court documents. Witnesses would show how Cox frequently had access to Spaulding’s cell phone and computer, which was not password protected. Cox implicated Spaulding only after learning that she was facing 169 to 420 years in prison, he added.
Jurors would also be presented a recording of an interview Spaulding had with state troopers in July 2012. Spaulding had not slept for 24 hours prior to making the statement, Wolfe said.
The trial continues today.