By Macy Lu
RIVERSIDE – Disagreements emerged between Judge Dale Wells and defense attorney John Patrick Dolan this week in Riverside County Superior Court Department 3P over what types of questions the attorney can ask witnesses in an alleged rape case.
Defendant Stanford Stelle, III, is charged with “six counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, one count of committing sex acts on a child under 10 years old and three counts each of oral copulation on a minor and lewd acts on a child under 14 years by using force,” according to mynewsla.com.
He reportedly assaulted the child intermittently for a decade, from 2003 when she was five to 2012 when she was 15. If convicted, Stelle will likely face a life sentence.
The trial opened this week with Mr. Dolan cross-examining Deputy District Attorney Gypsy Yeager’s witness, Deputy (no first name given) Carter from the local Indio jail where Stelle has been residing.
Dolan asked Carter a number of questions regarding his opinion of three of Stelle’s audio phone recordings, one from Dec. 24, 2019, another from Jan. 5, 2020, and a third from Feb. 14, 2020.
Carter confirmed that was Stelle from the recordings, but when asked if Stelle said his memory is faulty, Carter denied remembering anything of the sort.
When shown the transcript of Stelle saying, “I wish I could remember everything that I read. That would be great,” Carter simply commented, “I see what it states, and I agree that is something I wish I could do, too.”
After Dolan expressed his desire to ask Carter “what he’s observed in jail and compare it to the telephone calls,” Judge Wells interjected, reminding him that “you’ve already talked about his observations in jail. The only thing that’s happened in the redirect was he authenticated the voices on the phone calls. Now we’re plowing the same ground over again.”
He then denied Dolan’s request to continue this line of questions.
When asked if it is all right to have Carter “compare the phone calls to these observations,” Judge Wells agreed.
However, by the time Dolan asked if Carter recognized a difference in Stelle’s voice “between the courtroom and the jail holding cells downstairs,” Judge Wells interjected again, noting that “this witness, to the best of my knowledge and recollection, has not heard Mr. Stelle testify or speak in court.
He emphasized that “it is an unfair question to ask him to compare Mr. Stelle’s demeanor in speaking downstairs [to] his demeanor in speaking in court.”
With Dolan’s next question, the frustration between him and DDA Yeager mounted as well. He asked, “Do you believe that your observations have qualified you to comment on Mr. Stelle’s mental health or any impairments he might have?” only to have Yeager object and Judge Wells sustain the objection.
Dolan then tried, fruitlessly, three more times to elicit an answer pertaining to Stelle’s mental competency or Carter’s qualifications. Judge Wells sustained each of Yeager’s following objections, finally resulting in a resigned “no further questions” from Dolan.
Before Dolan called up his witness, Dr. Michael Galeski, he requested to speak in private with the judge and Yeager, out of earshot of the jury. During their discussion, he expressed his desire to ask Dr. Galeski’s opinion on what the calls “represent, what they don’t represent” and his observations inside the jail.
Yeager objected to that line of questioning, noting that “there have been other doctors that have also…met with him…for the 1368,” referring to the penal code that allows for the judge to order a hearing to evaluate the mental competency of a defendant.
Judge Wells conceded that “how [the phone calls] relate to his observations of the defendant’s overall demeanor in court” is an appropriate “line of questioning.”
As to Dr. Galeski’s “observations of the defendant in the jail setting,” he did not agree that was appropriate on the basis Dr. Galeski had “interactions with the defendant in the context of a mental evaluation,” during which the defendant “could have had an incentive to behave differently than he would behave…in jail.”
With a note of finality, Judge Wells emphasized that “if in fact [Stelle] was malingering as the other doctors believe,” he cannot allow a comparison between Mr. Stelle’s behavior during daily interactions and his behavior during a mental health evaluation.
The jurors returned and the hearing resumed.
When Dolan questioned whether there was anything that stood out to Dr. Galeski from the three phone calls, Dr. Galeski replied that “when [Stelle] talks about the Bible…this is again one of…his areas of heightened interests, so he’s able to talk a lot more about that than he would other topics.” Dr. Galeski pegged this as evidence for autistic spectrum disorder.
Another issue he pointed out was that despite residing at a certain location for around a year, “[Stelle] had to look up the address along with his booking number.”
For the cross-examination, DDA Yeager asked questions about Dr. Galeski’s payment for his diagnoses and Stelle’s interest in the Bible. To these, Dr. Galeski replied that he is paid $450 an hour for his court time and that Stelle does speak on a number of other topics besides the Bible. He only discusses the Bible in-depth with one individual who is just as knowledgeable on the topic as he.
The hearing concluded shortly after, with the case set to resume later in the week.
Macy is a junior from Orange County, CA, studying Communications and English at UC Davis. She loves meeting people, reading books, and writing creatively.
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