BENNINGTON — After deliberating for less than an hour Wednesday, a jury found a Bennington man who declined to attend his own trial guilty of a felony count of sexual assault with no consent.
William O. Stanley Sr., 52, was acquitted of a felony count of lewd and lascivious conduct in Bennington County criminal court.
Stanley had been released from an eight-year prison term just a few weeks before the new charges were filed. He had been in jail for escaping from custody.
The two-day trial this week was unusual because Stanley refused to enter the courtroom, although he had been brought to Bennington from the Rutland jail, where he has been held since he was arraigned in October. Stanley was not present in the courtroom for any part of the trial including the reading of the jury’s verdict.
Stanley also refused to come into court in September 2005 when he was tried on the escape charge. The jury convicted Stanley, and he appealed the conviction to the Vermont Supreme Court, arguing that the case should not have been allowed to proceed without his presence.
However, in a decision released July 16, 2007, the justices upheld Stanley’s conviction.
“The trial court reasonably determined that (Stanley’s) refusal to enter the courtroom was one tactic in an overall strategy to prevent the trial from proceeding, as evidenced by his failure to cooperate with each of his attorneys and his consistent requests to substitute appointed counsel,” the court said.
Judge Nancy Corsones made reference to the decision during the trial this week and gave T. Lamar Enzor, the attorney who represented Stanley, opportunities to leave the courtroom and keep Stanley apprised of what was happening.
The woman who accused Stanley was related to him but hadn’t seen him in 20 years. She had come to Vermont from California in an attempt to reconnect with Stanley.
During the trial, she said she and her boyfriend had gone to the Rutland jail on Sept. 27, 2012, to pick up Stanley upon his release.
The woman testified that the three of them had spent much of the next few weeks together but that as early as the day he was released from jail, Stanley had said suggestive things that made her uncomfortable and touched her in ways she thought were inappropriate.
She told the jury he had touched her in a very intimate way Oct. 10 in a Bennington motel room where the woman, her boyfriend and Stanley had been staying.
Later the same day, she said, while the three of them were driving in Bennington in a truck, Stanley touched her again until she pushed his hand away.
The woman said that when she was very young she had seen Stanley stab a woman. After she pushed his hand away, Stanley threatened to kill her if she told anyone what had happened, the woman testified.
During his closing argument, Enzor argued that Stanley had not touched the woman inappropriately but that she had come from California to Vermont to enact a revenge scheme and keep him in prison based on her anger over incidents that happened 20 years ago.
Stanley was not sentenced Wednesday. However, the jury found that the state had proven he could be classified as a habitual offender.
Stanley has several previous felony convictions, although the state relied only on three past convictions of escaping from custody to establish his status as a habitual offender. Because he was convicted of a felony Wednesday and of being a habitual offender, the state can ask for a sentence of life in prison.
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