A Missouri man arrested about 3½ years ago on charges of grooming, traveling to meet a minor and possession of child pornography has been found guilty on four counts, but acquitted on four others.
Judge Kimberly G. Koester during a court hearing last Thursday announced the verdicts for Shelby Weston, whose bench trial on those charges ended on Thursday, Sept. 10.
After returning those verdicts, Koester set a sentencing hearing for Weston at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17.
Koester found Weston, 45, guilty on the charges of:
• Traveling to meet a minor, a charge that alleged that he traveled from Missouri to Illinois “for the purpose of engaging in the offense of criminal sexual abuse with (a) child, after he used a computer online service … to seduce (a) child.
This is a Class 3 felony punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000.
• Grooming, alleging that he used a computer online service to commit the offense of criminal sexual abuse, “in that after having knowledge of the victim’s age, the defendant traveled to Vandalia and invited (the victim) to meet him in his hotel room.
This is a Class 4 felony punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000.
Weston was also convicted on two Class 3 felony counts of child pornography, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Koester found Weston not guilty on four Class 2 counts of child pornography, a felony offense carrying a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
Weston was taken into custody by Vandalia Police at a local fast food restaurant on March 24, 2017, and initially charges with grooming and traveling to meet a minor.
Those charges alleged that Weston traveled about five hours from his home in Monett, Mo., to meet a local 16-year-old female with whom he had been communicating online.
The child pornography charges were added after authorities confiscated his phone and found photos of the local female and other females believed to be minors.
Weston has been in Fayette County Jail on $250,000 bond since his arrest.
In explaining the guilty verdicts, Koester said that the evidence at trial included the fact that the victim posted in her online profile that she was a 16-year-old female in Illinois.
Also, she said, Weston admitted during a police interview that he knew her to be 16, and that he said, “It crossed my mind that she might be” a minor.
During their online conversations, Koester said, the victim talked about being an FFA member, that she had two years of high school left, and that she asked him, “Is it annoying to be talking to a teenager?”
The judge also said that Weston would know her to be a minor in that he knew the female’s snow days and days off from school.
On the four counts of child pornography alleging that Weston possessed photos of a child under the age of 13, Koester said, “The only evidence presented by the state as to age was the testimony of an Illinois State Police officer (about) the three-second rule.”
The “three-second rule” to which the officer testified is a standard under which the person viewing a photo should be able to tell within three seconds whether the person in the photo is a minor.
“Nowhere else did the state present evidence as to the age,” Koester said. “The state failed to present any evidence they (females in photos) were under the age of 13.”
On the one count of child pornography on which Koester found Weston guilty, she said she “believes the state has barely, but it has met, its burden.”
After the trial was over, Koester gave both the prosecution and Weston’s attorney, Monroe McWard, seven days to file supplements to their closing arguments.
Morrison filed his supplemental arguments within that period, but McWard asked for – and was granted – an extension.
Koester gave him until Sept. 26 to file his arguments, and they were filed two days after that date. McWard told the judge he had been having trouble with his computer.
In his supplemental arguments, listed also as a motion to dismiss the charges against Weston, McWard argues that in the six counts of child pornography, the prosecution failed to prove the location from which the female exchanged photos with Weston.
He argued that because the female was a resident of Mulberry Grove, in Bond County, jurisdiction.
McWard also makes arguments alleging that due to circumstances beyond the defense’s control, Weston’s rights to a speedy trial were violated.
Morrison maintains in his supplemental closing argument that issues pertaining to jurisdiction are to be raised prior to trial.
Because McWard filed his document after the stated deadline, Koester said, she would consider them to be part of a post-trial motion, to be argued with any other arguments, prior to the sentencing hearing.
McWard told Koester that during the sentencing hearing, he plans to present “another male involved with the female victim.”