Grooming, child porn trial held

A daylong bench trial for a Missouri man charged about 3 1/2 years ago with traveling to meet a minor and grooming came to an end on Thursday evening without a verdict.

That verdict for Shelby Weston, who is also charged with numerous counts of possession child pornography, will come after Judge Kimberly G. Koester reviews supplemental arguments by the prosecution and defense.
The trial ended with closing arguments by Fayette County State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison and Assistant Attorney General Shannon O’Brien, and Weston’s attorney, Monroe McWard of Taylorville.
Those arguments were given after the prosecution and defense rested.
The defense did not produce any witnesses, and Koester said that Weston had the right to testify, if he chose to do so. Weston initially told Koester, “I guess I’ll testify.”
But, after McWard asked for some time to talk with Weston about that decision, Weston said he would not testify.
Weston was arrested by Vandalia Police on March 24, 2017, after police were called to a fast-food restaurant for a report of harassment, according to VPD records.
At that time, Morrison’s office filed information charging Weston with traveling to meet a minor and grooming.
The traveling to meet a minor charge alleges that Weston “knowingly traveled to Illinois from Missouri for the purpose of engaging in the offense of criminal sexual abuse with (a child), after (he) used a computer online service and/or other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to seduce the child for that purpose.”
The grooming charge alleges that Weston “knowingly used a computer online service and/or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to seduce (a child) commit the offense of criminal sexual abuse, in that after having knowledge of the victim’s age, (he) continued to have sexual in nature conversations with (the child) and traveled to Vandalia and invited (the child) to meet him in his hotel room.”
Traveling to meet a minor is a Class 3 felony punishable by up to five years in prison, and grooming, a Class 4 felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
At the time of his arrest, Weston’s bond was set at $250,000, and he has been in jail since his arrest.
At the end of November last year, Morrison’s office filed six counts of child pornography.
Three of the counts are possession of child pornography with a victim under the age of 13, a Class 2 felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
The other three counts, alleging the possession of child pornography film and photos, are Class 3 felonies.
Prior to giving his opening statement, in arguing on a motion in limine, Morrison said the defense “wants to point a finger at the victim, (arguing) that because she hasn’t lived a perfect life, she should be punished.”
On the defense argument that the victim had engaged in similar conduct with other male adults, Morrison said that the defense has not presented any witnesses to “testify what happened before.”
In his opening statement, Morrison said that Weston traveled about five hours from Monett, Mo., to see the victim, that being “a culmination of a couple of weeks of text messages.”
Over the course of those online conversations, he said, it becomes sexual in nature, with photos being exchanged.
“He asked for nudes, she acquised,” Morrison said. Weston sent nude photos, which the victim did not ask for, he said.
“He drove five hours in an attempt to lure her into a sexual encounter,” Morrison said. “He knew she was 16 before he got into his car in Missouri.”
Three of the counts filed against Weston pertained to that 16-year-old female from Mulberry Grove, and the other counts of child pornography, Morrison said, were for photos of other “unidentified minors.”
This case, he said, was a “planned, calculated sexual assault that almost happened.”
In his opening statement, McWard said the defense would allow the child pornography issue to “speak for itself.”
As to the grooming and traveling to meet a minor charges, McWard said there is “nothing here that says my client was coming here to have sex with her.”
He said that Weston came to Vandalia just to see the victim, and when she rejected him, he left. “That was it,” McWard said.
During direct examination, the victim said that she does not remember who initiated the contact between her and Weston, and that her profile listed her as 16 years old.
The victim then took several minutes to answer when asked to describe later photos that she sent to Weston.
She said that on March 24, 2017, she was at work when she received a text from Weston, one that told her that he was in her workplace.
The victim testified that she notified her manager after seeing Weston, and that the manager called police.
McWard attempted to get the victim to say whether she had had online relationships with other adults, but Koester granted the prosecution’s objection.
The victim confirmed under cross-examination that Weston had not said that he wanted to have sex with her, and she said, “I don’t really remember” when asked how the two met online.
She also said that she doesn’t remember who first asked for nude photos.
Asked my McWard why she continued to have contact with Weston, being 16 years old and know that he was much older, the victim said, “I didn’t really think about it.”
The victim testified that she had deleted both the Kik app that they used for their online relationship and also photos, because she didn’t want her parents to find them.
Other prosecution witnesses included Vandalia police officer Dustin Cade, who responded to the fast food restaurant when the victim’s manager called.
In an initial interview, Weston said that the victim had told him that she was 16, but later said he thought she might be older than that.
He told Cade that most of the explicit conversations were initiated by the victim.
Prosecution witnesses testifying about the extraction of texts and videos from the phones of Weston and the victim were Sgt. Randall Copsey of the Illinois State Police Intelligence Support Unit and Vandalia Police Department Detective Jerry Bowling.
When Weston initially told the judge he would testify, McWard asked for a recess to talk to his client.
When they returned to court, McWard asked Koester for permission to call his expert witness – whom McWard had released earlier in the trial – about whether it was technically possible that Weston would not have been able to access photos sent to him on his cell phone.
Koester denied that request, telling McWard, “You could have had him testify at the beginning. You chose to release him.”
He then asked about recalling Copsey – whom the prosecution had released earlier in the trial – for questions on that issue, and Koester agreed to have Copsey, who was an hour away, recalled, saying that she would allow one question to be asked.
After his testimony, McWard again questioned about whether photos on Weston’s phone were actually viewable before being extracted with the Cellebrite Extraction Device.
Koester again told McWard that any questions related to that were not asked either during Copsey’s direct examination or cross-examination.
McWard argued that Bowling’s testimony about the extraction report “opened the door to a new area” and that he did not anticipate that issue coming up.
Koester said that both the prosecution and defense “have had nearly three years to prepare for trial – (all issues) should have been resolved.”
In the initial closing argument, O’Brien said that a number of facts were not in dispute, including the fact that the victim was 16 years old and that Weston was 41.
She said that during the online conversations, Weston mentioned coming to Vandalia and surprising her, and that the victim was not interested.
O’Brien said there was no “black and white answer as to when he knew she was 16” because both had deleted exchanges and the Kik app.
She said that during the interview with Bowling, Weston “said he knew she was 16.
“He certainly knew her age when he got in his car and drove here,” she said.
O’Brien said that text and photo exchanges were a fantasy of the victim.
“Because she was a willing participant makes no difference because of her age,” she said.
O’Brien said as to any question as to whether Weston should have known the female was underage, “other images (of other females) on his phone (are) giving us a bigger picture … that he is interested in younger girls.”
Prior to giving his closing argument, McWard made a verbal motion for a directed verdict, through which a judge can dismiss a case if he or she believes there was not sufficient evidence for a conviction.
McWard made arguments on jurisdiction in the charges involving the female victim who testified during the trial, saying that if the female was involved in the online conversations while at her home, those charges should be tried in Bond County.
Koester denied the verbal motion.
During his closing, McWard argued that his client and the victim had online conversations about sex, but that there was no evidence he came to have sex with her.
“He wanted to see here, she told him to get lost and he got lost,” McWard said.
“While these are serious, serious crimes and very repugnant, I think the state is asking you to convict my client based on the heinousness of the crimes, not based on evidence,” he said.
McWard said the victim’s testimony during the trial contradicted her statements made on the day that Weston came to see here.
In the prosecution’s second closing arguments, Morrison said there’s no question why Weston decided to travel more than 300 miles.
“You can see very clearly what he’s thinking,” Morrison said.
On the grooming charge, Morrison said, “It is setting her up to do the things he’s asking her about.
“He was attempting to get her in a position to fulfill his fantasies,” he said.
It was clear, Morrison argued, that the victim wanted only an online relationship, that what they discussed was not a real thing for her.
“It was real for him, real enough to travel 300 miles without telling her,” he said.

Shelby Weston

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