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Panel overturns convictions against Fircrest’s so-called ‘sex master’

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on Oct. 14, 2008 at 6:07 pm with No Comments »
October 14, 2008 6:07 pm

Here’s the top of a story I’m writing for tomorrow about one of Pierce County’s most notorious sex cases:

A state Court of Appeals panel has overturned the convictions of a Fircrest man who once called himself "Master Thorn" and two years ago was found guilty of sexually exploiting a 14-year-old girl.

It remains to be seen whether Stanley Scott Sadler will face another trial.

In a 2-1 decision issued Tuesday, Division II justices ruled Sadler’s constitutional right to a public trial was violated when Superior Court Judge Vicki Hogan moved a 2006 hearing over jury selection out of her courtroom and into an adjacent jury room.

The panel also ruled Hogan erred when she allowed prosecutors to introduce evidence against Sadler that detectives gleaned through use of a possibly faulty search warrant, according to the decision.

Justices David H. Armstrong and Elaine Houghton threw out Sadler’s eight convictions for sexual exploitation of a minor and sent the case back to Pierce County for further proceedings.

Justice J. Robin Hunt dissented, arguing that Hogan’s decision to move the hearing was not a fatal error.

Sadler, 51, has served two years of a 10-year sentence. He’s currently incarcerated at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County, according to Department of Corrections records.

It was unclear Tuesday whether he will be released pending his next hearing in Pierce County or when that hearing will be.

"We will take our time and determine what we need to do," Pierce County deputy prosecutor Mary Robnett, who supervises the sexual assault unit, said Tuesday.

You can read the entire Court of Appeals decision here.

And below is a story TNT reporter Sean Robinson wrote about the case a couple years ago:

She said, he said and then mom said

A Pierce County child-rape case features a snarl of oddities: A defendant refusing plea deals, a vanished 14-year-old girl and a mother who sides with the man.

By Sean Robinson

Saturday,April 22, 2006

Edition: SOUTH SOUND, Section: Front Page, Page A01

A man charged with raping a 14-year-old girl can’t expect sympathy, but Stanley Scott Sadler is getting it from an unlikely source: the teen’s mother.

His trial starts May 1 in Pierce County Superior Court. The charges: kidnapping, child rape, sexual exploitation of a minor, possession of child pornography, dealing in child pornography – 38 felony counts in all.

Sadler’s plea: not guilty. His defense: Blame the girl. Court records show she is a serial juvenile offender, known to advertise herself on Internet sex sites and portray herself as an adult. Sadler claims he was duped.

Twist: The mother, Clark County resident Debra Farnam, agrees with him.

In court documents, she says her daughter admitted lying to Sadler (seen here at his trial) about her age and lying to police about her kidnapping. Prosecutors question the hearsay confession – Farnam is the only source for the girl’s alleged statement.

Complication: The teen is missing. Prosecutors say they don’t know where to find her, and don’t expect her to testify.

The pretrial battle has raged for 18 months. Sadler, now on his third lawyer, has rejected two plea-bargain offers. Last November, Pierce County prosecutors were willing to let him walk out of jail without a rape charge. He refused.

Whatever the outcome, the case likely will shred reputations. Arguments will paint Sadler as a sexual extremist, the mother as a rotten parent and the teen as a budding predator.

Early legal briefs from both sides hinge on the girl’s alleged confession and her criminal history. Two other child-rape investigations involving her and older men hit dead ends in the last year. Charges were dismissed in one case, never filed in the other. Both include glimpses of the same pattern: a minor pretending to be an adult.

Sadler and his attorney, Michael Schwartz, want jurors to hear that information. Prosecutors do not. Judge Vicki Hogan will decide what goes in and what stays out.

“It will come out at trial that (Farnam) did contact the prosecutor and express to the prosecutor that she was convinced that her daughter had lied about this, that Scott Sadler was taken in, that other men had been taken in,” Schwartz said. “The prosecutors have known since the beginning that (the teen) portrayed herself as 19.”

Deputy prosecutor John Neeb won’t trade public barbs with Schwartz.

“The state doesn’t try cases in the newspaper,” he said. “We are anxious for the entire set of facts to come out so the jury can reach the truth.”

The arrest

On Sept. 12, 2004, Sadler, 48, a postal worker and ex-Marine, left his Fircrest house in handcuffs. Police found the 14-year-old girl lying in his upstairs bedroom, groaning as if drugged, wearing nothing but a plaid skirt. The house was full of bondage gear.

She had been missing from Clark County for a week. Working with a private Internet-based group that tracks missing children, investigators traced Internet activity by the girl to Sadler’s house.

As police piled him into a patrol car, Sadler kept saying the girl had told him she was 19.

The arrest made national news in 2004. The teen and her mother appeared on the “Montel Williams” talk show, in a segment called “Monsters,” guest-starring Sadler’s booking photo.

After the initial wave of publicity, Farnam began to question her daughter’s story, court documents say.

Farnam did not return numerous phone messages from The News Tribune but the transcript of her November 2005 interview with a defense investigator appears in Sadler’s court file.

“She didn’t act traumatized,” Farnam said of her daughter, describing a series of “little things” that raised her suspicions. The girl laughed and talked at the hospital – a little too freely, Farnam thought. Her story of her ordeal kept changing.

Farnam said she called prosecutors in spring 2005 to share her doubts. She didn’t think her daughter had been kidnapped. She said deputy prosecutor Rosie Martinelli told her not to worry about it.

In September 2005, Farnam met with Tacoma attorney Jack Connelly. She was considering a possible civil suit against Clark County for failing to protect her daughter. The girl, who had a history of running away from home and from foster parents, had been under community supervision at the time of her disappearance.

Connelly, citing the attorney-client privilege, told The News Tribune he could not discuss the details of his conversations with Farnam, but acknowledged that the meeting took place.

In her interview with the defense investigator, Farnam recalled Connelly saying her daughter “did not appear to be victimized.” She said he showed her various documents, including copies of Internet ads in which her daughter advertised herself on bondage sex sites, describing herself as 19. One ad included a photo of the girl, and the statement, “I am currently looking for a master.”

Farnam, torn between doubt and the desire to believe her daughter, said she was upset by the documents.

“I was blown away,” she told the investigator. “I can’t even explain.”

Farnam recalled Connelly saying he could go forward with the civil action, but warned that cross-examination of the teen would be painful. After the meeting, Farnam decided to drop the suit.

The confession

A few days after the meeting with Connelly, the teen landed in juvenile detention . Her mother visited her, and the woman said she heard a confession: The Fircrest abduction story was false. The girl said she went with Sadler willingly, lied to him about her age, faked a drug-induced stupor and fabricated a story of abuse and death threats to stay out of juvenile detention.

“She told me . . . from the day she met him . . . until the day she had got caught there, she had never said anything but, ‘I’m 19, I am 19, I am 19,’ ” Farnam told the defense investigator.

In October 2005, Farnam, because she lived in Clark County, filed a report with the local sheriff’s office, saying her daughter had lied. Again, she called Pierce County prosecutors, saying she was afraid her daughter would be “torn apart” on the stand.

According to Farnam’s interview transcript, Martinelli said, “That’s not your concern,” and refused to continue the conversation.

Prosecutors acknowledge Farnam talked to them, though their briefs don’t mention multiple contacts. They have seen the transcript of her interview with the defense investigator, and the description of her daughter’s confession. They say Farnam has a good reason to lie: She wants to keep her daughter off the witness stand.

“Her unfortunate and horrendous life circumstances would clearly expose Ms. Farnam’s failings as a parent,” Martinelli wrote in a November court filing, responding to defense efforts to admit Farnam’s statements into evidence. “The motive for either (the girl) or her mother to lie to get out of having to testify is great.”

After her last conversation with prosecutors, Farnam sent a letter to Sadler in jail.

“Morally, I can not sit back and watch the destruction of your life without stepping forward,” she wrote. “I did try to tell the prosecuting attorney some of my information, but I believe in my heart she really doesn’t care.”

Phony ID?

Interviewed in Pierce County Jail, Sadler said he chatted with the teen over the Internet for a year before meeting her in person. The girl had a webcam. Sadler claimed she held a copy of what looked like her birth certificate in front of the lens.

Investigators never found the birth certificate, and prosecutors say Sadler didn’t mention seeing it at the time of his arrest.

Farnam told the defense investigator the original of her daughter’s birth certificate is missing from a box in her home. She believes her daughter might have stolen and altered it. She admitted she has no evidence to prove it, and added that her daughter denied it.

Prosecutors say Sadler can’t prove he saw the phony ID. They say it doesn’t matter what the girl told him – he should have tried harder to verify her age.

“The victim’s verbal representations of age are not a defense to all of Sadler’s charges,” Neeb said. “The crimes that Sadler is charged with have different defenses that have different age minimums and different levels of proof.”

The missing witness

Prosecutors and Schwartz would love to ask the girl to explain herself, but they say they don’t know where she is. Documents in Sadler’s court file suggest she is living in another state with an older man.

An outstanding warrant orders her arrest as a material witness in Sadler’s case. Prosecutors admit in court filings they don’t expect her to appear. Are they looking for her? Prosecutors will say only that the warrant is active.

Schwartz argues that prosecutors aren’t actively searching for the teen because her testimony could hurt their case.

Prosecutors retort that they tried to detain the girl on a material witness warrant last fall. Court records show Superior Court Judge Thomas Larkin ordered her release from juvenile detention over their objections, sending the teen back to foster care. She subsequently ran away.

Citing the girl’s multiple arrests and foster-home stays while awaiting trial, prosecutors add a stinger: They suggest Farnam might have helped her daughter disappear, and they note she appears to condone the girl’s relationships with older men.

“Several times, (the teen) has been found in the company of older men,” Martinelli wrote in her November brief. “(Her) mother continues to apparently condone the behavior and she has never reported any of the incidents to police. . . . Follow-up investigation with (the teen’s) foster-siblings revealed information that Ms. Farnam may have assisted (her daughter) in running away.”

The defendant

Prosecutors intend to argue that Sadler is no angel. He met his first wife when he was 26 and she was 13, court records say. They had sex, drifted apart and later married. They had three children and now are divorced.

Other evidence will focus on Sadler’s sexual tastes, including bondage. Jurors will hear a primer on the habits of what prosecutors call “the BDSM community.”

Sadler admits his preference runs outside the mainstream, but he says it’s not illegal.

“There’s a huge stigma attached to it,” he said. “But it’s what I would call an alternative, private lifestyle.”

A third person, a woman, participated in the sexual activity at Sadler’s home. Evidence includes photos of the woman engaged in sex with the teen. The prosecutors have decided not to charge the woman, but her name appears on the witness list.

Records show the woman signed a contract with Sadler, giving him permission to treat her in a degrading manner. Sadler admitted the girl did not sign a similar contract.

Prosecutors argue the woman and other acquaintances of Sadler suggested he should check the teen’s age carefully, adding that obtaining proof of age is standard practice in the bondage community. Statements in court files suggest Sadler assured his friends the girl was of legal age, but he offered no proof other than his assurances.

The multiple charges of possession of child pornography Sadler faces stem from photos of the teen, sometimes with the woman. A note in court files mentions Sadler chatted online with a 17-year-old girl from the East Coast, and asked for her date of birth and Social Security number to verify her age. The girl gave Sadler phony information and stopped chatting with him, records state.

Other cases

Records from Sadler’s court file and other investigations by federal and local law enforcement agencies show at least two other child-rape investigations involving the same girl, implicating different men: one from Clark County, one from King County.

In December, Clark County prosecutors dismissed the charges in their case without prejudice, meaning they can refile them later. The stated reason for the dismissal: The teen could not be found.

Farnam filed a statement in the Clark County case, saying her daughter told her the allegations against the 50-year-old defendant were untrue.

The News Tribune reached the Clark County defendant in Idaho. He said he met the girl online, and that she portrayed herself as 19. He said the girl talked to him about Sadler’s case.

“She kind of hedged to me that she stole her birth certificate, modified the date on it and showed it to Sadler over the Webcam,” the man said. “Then she destroyed the evidence. She destroyed it so it wouldn’t be discovered that she modified the document.”

The King County case involved a Renton man who has not been charged with a crime. His case drew attention from the FBI because it involved Internet contacts and potential violations of federal law.

The Renton man declined an interview with The News Tribune, and referred questions to his attorney, John Henry Browne of Seattle. Browne said federal investigators have chosen not to pursue the case against his client.

“I’ve been assured that he will not be charged,” Browne said. Officials with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle declined comment.

Browne said the facts in his client’s case resemble those surrounding Sadler. He said the man met the girl through an online ad, and that she portrayed herself as 19.

“I’ve seen photographs of her,” Browne said. “I would believe she’s over 18.”

The plea bargain

Sadler claims he could have walked out of jail months ago had he taken plea bargains offered by prosecutors. He said he refused, twice, in part because he doesn’t want to register as a sex offender.

He said the first offer was two counts of possession of child pornography. He would have received credit for time served and paid a $700 fine. The second offer: Plead guilty to third-degree assault and walk away.

“I can’t say, ‘I did that,’ ” he said. “I won’t accept that.”

Martinelli said Sadler’s description of the plea offers was incorrect.

“You’re not getting the entire picture,” she said. She would not say how, citing ethical restrictions. Schwartz also said he could not discuss his client’s plea-bargain offer.

The notebook

The documents in Sadler’s court file include notebook entries written by the teen during one of her stays in juvenile detention. Investigators recovered it after she ran away from foster care. One sentence reads, “When will they understand that the monster is not you, but in fact is me?”

The entries are multiple drafts of a letter to Sadler, written but never sent. The girl addresses him by his preferred name, Scott.

The letter starts with a greeting.

“Dear Scott,

Do you hate me?”

- – -

Sean Robinson 597-8486

- – -

SIDEBAR: Charges against STANLEY Sadler

Here’s what state law says about the crimes Stanley Sadler faces and their defenses.

The crime

A person is guilty of sexual exploitation of a minor if the person compels, aids or invites a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct, knowing the conduct will be photographed or part of a live performance.

The defense

It is not a defense that the defendant did not know the age of the child. It is a defense, which the defendant must prove, that the defendant had no facts to reasonably know the person was a minor. It also is a defense that the defendant made a reasonable attempt to determine the true age of the minor by requiring a driver’s license, marriage license, birth certificate or other governmental or educational identification card or paper, and did not rely solely on the word or apparent age of the minor.

The crime

A person is guilty of rape of a child in the third degree when the person has sexual intercourse with someone who is at least 14 but less than 16 and not married to the perpetrator, and the perpetrator is at least 48 months older than the victim.

The defense

It is no defense that the perpetrator did not know the victim’s age, or that the perpetrator believed the victim to be older. It is a defense, which the defendant must prove, that the defendant reasonably believed the other person to be at least 16, based on what the person told the defendant.

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