After a five-day trial in Havre, a jury last night convicted Edward Harold Ghostbear of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl he was babysitting.
State District Judge Dan Boucher ordered a presentence investigation including a psycho-sexual evaluation, and said he would schedule a sentencing hearing after the investigation and evaluation are scheduled.
Boucher said he expects that the earliest the sentencing could take place is late December.
Ghostbear faces up to life in prison or a minimum of four years and a maximum of 100 years for the offense.
The jury deliberated for less than four hours before returning its verdict. It found Ghostbear, who was born in 1977, not guilty of the first charge of sexual intercourse without consent, but guilty of the alternate charge of sexual assault.
The original charges alleged that he committed the offense or offenses between Dec. 15, 2011, and Dec 8, 2012. Those charges later were amended to include the period from Jan. 1, 2011, to Jan. 8, 2012.
The victim, after multiple interviews and counseling, said Ghostbear had touched her whenever the two were alone together.
Both the victim and her mother testified that they had deep emotional ties to the defendant, with the victim calling him her dad in the times before she disclosed the sexual assault.
Ghostbear was accused of molesting the daughter of his girfriend, with the child telling her mother he had touched “her bad part” Jan. 7, the day before her eighth birthday.
The mother of the victim testified that she and Ghostbear had associated for about two years before the girl disclosed he had been molesting her. They met while living in South Dakota, including staying in the same homeless shelter there, before the mother and her girl moved to Havre to stay with the mother’s sister in January 2011.
Ghostbear testified that his girlfriend asked him to move to Havre to help her get her own apartment, help her take care of the girl and help pay expenses.
Both Ghostbear and the mother of the girl were working at the time the girl reported Ghostbear had molested her.
At the time, Ghostbear was staying in the homeless shelter of the Branded by Fire Ministries church, the former Salvation Army chapel on 2nd Street and 6th Avenue.
Broadwater County Attorney Karla Mae Bosse, who prosecuted the case while a deputy Hill County Attorney and worked as a special deputy during the trial, told the jury she wanted to make it clear that the accusations were not against Branded by Fire or the assistant pastor and his children who were in the church Jan. 7.
Ghostbear moved to the homeless shelter — he said he had been attending church services there since he moved to Havre — after he was released from jail pending a trial on a felony charge that he had assaulted the mother of the victim in October 2011.
Judge Boucher issued a protective order banning contact with the mother and her daughter, but later amended the order to allow contact at the request of the girl’s mother.
In April, Ghostbear pleaded guilty in a plea agreement to the felony charge of partner or family member assault, and in July Boucher sentenced him to five years with the Montana Department of Corrections with two years suspended. That sentence is pending the disposition of the rape charge.
The mother of the victim testified that she went out drinking with a friend Jan. 7, and left her daughter in the care of another relative. When she got back, her relative said she was too drunk to care for her daughter, so the friend’s husband took the victim to the church and the mother to her apartment.
When Ghostbear brought the victim back to her mother, the mother testified, something seemed wrong, her daughter seemed sad. She kept asking her daughter what had happened, until she told her mother that Ghostbear had touched her, the mother testified.
She said she then ran from her residence on 3rd Ave. and 10th Street to the church to confront Ghostbear. The pastor, who called Ghostbear to tell him to come back from where he was en route to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, called the police when the woman assaulted Ghostbear when he got back.
Ghostbear testified Tuesday, saying he had not touched the girl. He said the girl’s mother told him she had found a new boyfriend and wanted her out of his life, and that she told him she would get him sent back to jail.
Bosse pointed out that he also testified that he had told the woman he wanted what was best for her, and would support her dating a different man — so why, Bosse asked, would she feel the need to send him to jail?
Montana Public Defender Dan Minnis argued throughout the trial that the charge had nothing to do with anything Ghostbear did to the victim — the girl’s mother concocted the charges to send him to jail, thinking he was cheating on her, Minnis said.
Minnis said the case was a “rush to judgment, ” a hurried investigation where the prosecution assumed from the start that the girl’s Jan. 7 disclosure was true and accurate and hurried to convict the defendant.
He said the interviews conducted by Havre police were improperly done, using leading and suggestive questions to prompt the girl to make statements indicting Ghostbear.
Minnis also cited the fact that no physical evidence was found, either in the sexual assault tests or in examination of physical evidence by the Montana State Crime Lab, showing any evidence of sexual assault. He said the jury has to assume that his client is lying and the allegations against Ghostbear are true, as there is nothing tying him to the crime.
Bosse argued that, and pointed out expert witnesses brought in both by her and by Minnis testified that sexual assaults have no physical evidence.
Minnis also argued that the interviews conducted of the victim and Ghostbear were done with the presumption of Ghostbear’s guilt and were slanted to achieve his conviction.
The mother testified that she had done nothing to plant the idea or coach her daughter to tell things that weren’t true.
Another point Minnis argued was that Ghostbear could not have molested the victim. Pastor Myron David and four of his children were in the basement of the church at the time the incident was described, he said.
Bosse elicited testimony that, although that was true, there were many times when Ghostbear and the victim were alone in the common room of the basement of the church — how long those periods were was unknown.
She also elicited testimony that sexual assault crimes regularly occur with people in the same building, the same room, even the same bed. Some perpetrators seem to get an even bigger thrill by committing the crime with people nearby, one expert testified.
Bosse made a point similar to Minnis’ — the jury needed to decide whom to believe, Ghostbear, or a girl who spent her eighth birthday in a hospital in stirrups being examined for evidence of sexual assault.
“If you honestly believe the testimony of 8-year-old (victim’s name), you must convict the defendant, ” she said.