by Jane Fitzsimmons and Justine Joya
On the morning of May 7, the Stone trial slowed its stride to allow direct examination of character witnesses called by the defense. From neighbors to babysitters to the grandfather of Samuel Stone, testimonies aligned – “Quentin was [and is] a hands-on dad.” These same witnesses would further contend that Mr. Stone has never displayed a violent temper, and he could not possibly have caused the death of his infant son. Of course, nobody can know what goes on behind closed doors.
The first witness, questioned by Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequiera, was a close family friend who often looked after Quentin and Sara Stone’s sons. She testified that “Quentin was a hands-on dad. He was a caretaker and Sara never had to ask him to help with the boys. They were very in tune with each other.” She then acknowledged how the Stones struggled to become parents. “They had difficulties conceiving Jack, and the twins, but there was no anxiety with having a multiple birth since Sara grew up with twins.”
Following gentle prodding by Ms. Sequiera, the witness continued her testimony, defining Quentin’s “gentle and soft-spoken” demeanor as well as his approach to parenting Jack – “He is kind, thoughtful, reserved, very loving… always puts others before himself. I never saw him discipline Jack, except to calmly ask him to not do something.” To drive the point home about Mr. Stone’s mild temperament, the witness boldly announced, “If I had any reservations, I would not be sitting here today.”
Ms. Sequiera changed the subject to ask the witness about her experience with Sam’s vomiting in early September of 2012. After confirming that she was well aware of Sam’s falling incident prior to being sick, she said, “On one occasion, I was holding Sam and he was projectile vomiting. I’ve seen it before in my kids, but I was shocked by the volume and it was more clear than normal.” In response to how Sam’s behavior seemed post-vomiting, the witness recalled, “Sam became limp. His arms and legs were weak like after an athlete runs a marathon. He did not pass out, but he began crying, agitatedly.”
With no further questions, Ms. Sequiera handed the witness over for cross-examination, which established solely that the witness “only saw Sam Stone projectile vomit once.”
The second witness to take the stand this morning was a Public Guardian in Yolo County. She has worked as a conservator for 15 years, and eight of which she has known Mr. Stone, ever since he married into the Yudin family. She knew the Stones had trouble conceiving, and when asked by Deputy Public Defender Monica Brushia if the Stones were happy about the birth of their first son, she confirmed, “Yes. They were thrilled. Very ready for their first child. Life was good.” Regarding Mr. Stone’s character, she could not help smiling. “Quentin is a bit of a gentle giant. He’s mellow.”
Ms. Brushia altered her line of questioning to a later date, querying, “What was ‘Q’s’ demeanor at the funeral?” The witness hung her head and mumbled, “Broken.” In the somber silence that followed, she sighed, “When you have such a loss, you don’t wake up the next morning and you’re okay. Quentin was devastated.”
In cross-examination, Deputy District Attorney Steve Mount asked the Public Guardian if her opinion was biased. She gave a resounding, “Yes,” followed by affirmation that it would be unlikely for anything to change her mind about Mr. Stone’s innocence. DDA Mount shocked the courtroom by asking a question that led the witness to exercise her 5th Amendment right. As a result, her testimony was stricken and Judge Richardson ordered it to be disregarded by the jury.
After the ensuing confusion settled, the court room swelled in anticipation for the defense’s third character witness – Ashley Yudin, father of Sara Stone and grandfather of Sam Stone. Mr. Yudin began his testimony by telling Ms. Sequiera that he has known ‘Q’ for 12-13 years, and has grown to love his son-in-law as much as any biological son. Like the witnesses before him, Mr. Yudin described Mr. Stone as a “hands-on dad.” He added, “Maybe the most hands-on dad I’ve ever seen. He was all about being a dad.”
Regarding Sam’s change in behavior after the fall on Sept. 5th, 2012, Mr. Yudin testified, “We noticed subtle changes. When you have twins, there’s a tendency to compare, but there was a change. Hank was tracking with his eyes, and Sam wasn’t as much.” Ms. Sequiera nodded and asked, almost rhetorically, “Do you think you might be burying your head in the sand?” Mr. Yudin was visibly perturbed by the accusation. Following an abrupt, “No,” he went on to say, “Some people have a short fuse and will get upset over a paper cut; some people have no fuse and you can’t make them upset no matter what… ‘Q’ falls into the latter category.”
Ms. Sequiera took a moment to organize her thoughts before inquiring if Mr. Yudin had talked to the doctors while Sam was in the ER. The response she was given was heartbreaking. “Yes,” said Mr. Yudin, “I asked the doctors why they couldn’t do surgery to stop the bleeding and they said it wasn’t that much blood. They said the bleeding was causing the seizures, not the other way around. When I asked later [after Sam died] why they chose not to stop the bleeding, they said, ‘well, it’s our decision.'” Ms. Sequiera had no further questions.
DDA Mount’s cross-examination began with, “Do you remember telling Investigator Harmon that the dog or Jack may have caused what happened to Sam?” Mr. Yudin admitted he could not remember. For the next ten minutes, Mount attempted to draw forth the truth, but eventually gave up and resorted to a vaguer angle, “Would you say that good people can sometimes make mistakes?” Ms. Sequiera, fangs drawn, leapt out of her seat and scolded, “Objection! Vague!” Mr. Mount tried to rephrase the question, but ultimately failed as the defense’s rapid objections were sustained.
On re-cross, Ms. Sequiera, shaking with frustration, roared, “Mr. Yudin, would you consider it a mistake if I’m supposed to get milk on the way home, but I’m too tired?” Confused, he responded, “No.” “Okay,” heaved Ms. Sequiera, “What D.A. Mount wants to know is could Quentin Stone have hurt Sam Stone?” Mr. Yudin, jaw set, spoke the words slowly, “No. Absolutely not.” Sequiera thanked Mr. Yudin for his time and he was dismissed.
The next three witnesses, a neighbor and two school teachers, added similar testimonies to the three preceding them. The neighbor explained how she could see into the Stone’s backyard and windows, and even hear into their house. “I never heard any disagreement. They were a happy couple.” She added, “Knowing the charge, I would still trust Quentin with watching my three children. Having lost a child, there is a bond between parents who have lost and ‘Q’ definitely had that.” The school teachers, who happened to be married, had similar sentiments. “Quentin was wonderful with kids. All kids.” The husband recalled, “When Sam was rushed to the ER, ‘Q’ was distraught and anxious to get there, yet he took the time to calm down Jack and tell him Sam was going to be okay.”
After breaking for lunch, the defense called their expert, Dr. O’Donohue, to the stand. The jury was not present while Judge Richardson determined if the doctor should be able to testify. He ultimately ruled in favor.
Dr. O’Donohue has practiced clinical psychology for 30 years and has written over 75 books. He specializes in child and sexual abuse and has testified in court previously. On March 27, 2014, Dr. O’Donohue met with the Stone family to observe Jack and his interactions with his parents, looking primarily at Jack’s pathology, an explanation of Jack’s strange behavior (i.e., “shutting down” the day that Sam underwent the alleged fall), and Mr. Stone’s profile (i.e., does he fit an abusive profile?). Prior to the meeting, Dr. O’Donohue received and looked over police reports and medical records. The defense asked, “Should there be behavioral issues in Jack if abuse is present within the home?” The doctor responded, “Yes.”
Dr. O’Donohue was reminded of his professional report on the Stone family. He determined that Jack had no obvious pathology and did not appear to be traumatized. He might play rough and not know his own weight, sometimes needing a reminder to “watch out,” but “that is normal for a boy of his age.” Jack also did not appear fearful of Quentin Stone during observation. As for his “shutting down” behavior, lying on the floor while facing the wall, Dr. O’Donohue believes this was an indication of guilt and shame. He concluded with the fact: “Children who have older siblings – older by 2 years — have higher risks of injury.”
Mr. Mount stood to address the witness in cross. “Would you see behavioral change in a child if abuse took place out of sight and only occurred twice?” Dr. O’Donohue was forced to admit, “No, you would not.” Mr. Mount followed up by asking, “Did you clinically treat Jack at all?” Again, the doctor admitted, “No, I did not.”
A final character witness, the Stone’s babysitter of 3 years, was brought to the stand. She, like all others, testified to Quentin Stone’s “hands-on” parenting style, as well as his loving, playful temperament and complete absence of aggression. Her testimony was brief and to the point.
Court was adjourned and set to continue tomorrow at 8:30am in Department 1.