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State v. Ulrich "Ric" Adam Steines

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

November 15, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
ULRICH "RIC" ADAM STEINES Appellant

         Appealed from the Eighth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Winn, Louisiana Trial Court No. 41, 631 Honorable Jacque Derr, Judge

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT Counsel for Appellant By: Sherry Watters.

          RICHARD C. NEVILS Counsel for Appellee District Attorney STEVEN D. CREWS COLE B. SMITH Assistant District Attorneys.

          Before PITMAN, GARRETT, and COX, JJ.

          COX, J.

         The defendant, Ulrich "Ric" Adam Steines ("Steines"), was convicted after a bench trial of one count of pornography involving juveniles, in violation of La. R.S. 14:81.1, and two counts of aggravated incest, in violation of La. R.S. 14:78.1. On count one, Steines was sentenced to 10 years at hard labor, without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. On each of counts two and three, Steines was sentenced to 45 years at hard labor, 25 years to be served without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. All sentences were ordered to be served consecutively. Steines filed motions for post-verdict judgment of acquittal and for a new trial, which were both denied. A motion to reconsider the sentence was timely filed, but withdrawn by defense counsel. Steines now appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm the convictions, vacate the sentences, and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTS

         In late summer of 2008, S.S. was 10 years old and was living with her grandfather (Steines), Steines's wife, and Steines's son, A.S. A.S. was 14 years old at the time and Steines was 53 years old. S.S. had been living with Steines at the request of her mother Odessa (Steines's daughter) since she was 10 months old and S.S. called Steines dad. Steines traveled with his employment and stayed several weeks of the month at the Economy Inn in Winnfield, Louisiana. Receipts showing his stays at the motel from June to mid-October 2008 were introduced into evidence during the trial. It is undisputed that S.S. stayed with Steines for several days at a time when he was at the motel.

         In either late August or early September 2008, S.S. told a former wife of Steines that A.S. had touched her inappropriately on her breast and had kissed her. A report was made to the Department of Children and Family Services and an investigation followed. On September 15, 2008, and on two other occasions, Barrett McIntosh with DCFS, interviewed Steines. McIntosh testified at trial that the family underwent group and family counseling and that Steines's wife reported marital problems due to Steines's use of pornography. While the family's problems came to light around the allegations of A.S.'s conduct, the focus soon shifted to Steines.

         During his first interview with McIntosh, Steines volunteered that he had showed S.S. how to put a condom on a banana because she was maturing and would soon be having sexual relations. Steines said he used the banana as a demonstration tool for S.S.'s education. During a second interview on October 16, 2008, McIntosh advised Steines that S.S. was going to be referred for sexual abuse testing. McIntosh testified at trial that Steines's tone changed and he became defensive, telling McIntosh that the test would be unreliable because S.S. used tampons instead of pads and had been "playing with herself." By the third conversation on October 18, 2008, McIntosh had concerns Steines was grooming S.S. for further sexual behavior and that Steines was attempting to manipulate the DCFS investigation.

         On two occasions, October 16, 2008 and November 24, 2008, S.S. was interviewed by Jennifer Graves of the Children's Advocacy Center. Transcripts of both interviews were admitted into evidence at trial with no objection. In the first interview, S.S. described the incident in the motel with the condom and the banana. She stated that Steines told her that he needed to show her that because she was growing up. When asked if Steines had ever taken any pictures of her without her clothes on, S.S. replied, "I think one time, I'm not sure actually."

         In her second interview with Ms. Graves, S.S. stated she had "lied about a few things" in her previous conversation with Ms. Graves because she was scared. S.S. then stated, "I did have another person touch me and take pictures of me and video tape me and stuff like that." S.S. then stated that the person was "Ric Steines, who I now know don't live here anymore." Shortly after the allegations were made and the investigation began, Steines returned to his native Canada. The plane ticket was introduced into evidence at trial.

         S.S. also told Ms. Graves that Steines touched her "lower private area" and "had stuck stuff at" her. This happened more than once at the motel and before at the house. The first time it occurred, S.S. was sleeping in Steines's bed at the motel and Steines "stuck his fingers" up S.S.'s vagina. S.S. told Ms. Graves that she pushed Steines away. S.S. also advised that "we went one more time and daddy forced me to put my fingers up myself and got butt naked and he videotaped me." When asked to explain, S.S. said, "I was at the motel one day and I was just lying in bed watching TV and he forced me to get up, take off all my clothes and he took off all his. And he videotaped me it really hurt." S.S. could not recall what the camera looked like. S.S. also stated that Steines grabbed her hand and made her touch his "lower part" and showed her a video of grown-ups having sex. S.S. told Ms. Graves that she had a friend who had experienced similar things with her stepfather. S.S. stated that hearing about her friend's experience had given S.S. the confidence to talk about it.

         When asked, specifically, when the incidents took place, during the summer or during the school year, S.S. replied that she did not remember "any of the times, " just what happened. S.S. also stated that Steines told her not to tell or he would do something, but she could not recall what he said he would do.

         An arrest warrant was secured for Steines, but he had returned to Canada. It was not until 2014 that Steines was extradited to Winn Parish to face these charges. Officer Kelly Fannin of the Winn Parish Sheriff's Office testified that he arrested Steines on August 1, 2014.

         S.S. testified that she lived in Caldwell Parish in the summer and fall of 2008 and that she would stay with Steines at the Economy Inn in Winnfield, Winn Parish, LA while he was working. S.S. stated that the incidents of abuse occurred at the motel. At trial, S.S. recounted the banana and condom incident and testified that Steines touched her vagina. She stated that Steines told her he would give her twenty dollars if she would get fully undressed. S.S. testified that "he used a camera to either record me or take pictures, I'm not really sure, um, of me doing stuff to myself. . . . he was naked at the time." S.S. confirmed that Steines told her to touch herself for the recording and that he told her she would likely be having sex by the time she was 12 years old. S.S. stated that the touching happened numerous times and that Steines showed her pornography on his computer. When asked why she was testifying, S.S. stated, "I need justice and I need closure in my life. It's been really hard since it, um, it's - it's really hard to just be in a room with another, uh man, and it's really hard just to - to just have those memories in my head without anything being done."

         During cross-examination, S.S. admitted that she could not get into the mind of "her ten-year old self" and that eight years can affect one's memory. S.S. agreed that the events happened "late summer."

         Dr. David Williams is an expert in psychology. DCFS referred the Steines family to him in order to evaluate A.S. Dr. Williams testified regarding group and family therapy sessions. Dr. Williams testified that he acted to have A.S. and S.S. removed from the family unit based on his conclusion regarding the inappropriate grooming behavior (the banana and condom incident) with a 10-year-old child by hand delivering a letter to DCFS. Dr. Williams stated he was concerned the child was being "softened up" for more sexual behavior. Dr. Williams testified that he wrote a letter, which he personally walked over to child protective services, expressing his concerns about the children in this family. Dr. Williams stated that "the kids needed to be out of there, [S.S.] especially." His opinion and actions were based on his experience as a counseling psychologist working with sexual offenders and victims.

         Dr. John Simoneaux, an expert in psychology, testified at trial that he evaluated S.S. on January 29, 2009. He was referred by DCFS to "validate sexual enticement and lack of supervision relative to her grandfather." Dr. Simoneaux reviewed the two statements S.S. gave to Ms. Graves and personally interviewed S.S. Dr. Simoneaux testified that it was normal for young victims to make additional revelations over time rather than all at once. He also explained that it was not unusual to see differing statements from a child victim. Defense counsel objected, arguing that the answer would be an impermissible opinion on the credibility of S.S. and the validity of her claim under State v. Foret, infra. The trial court allowed Dr. Simoneaux to testify as to the common behaviors of victims in general, but stated, "I'm gonna keep an eyed - eye on the rest. Let, uh, I believe [defense counsel] is correct when it gets down to the - is she telling the truth or not, that's not [Dr. Simoneaux's] job. . . . That's my job." Later in his testimony, Dr. Simoneaux was asked if he made a recommendation on what to do following his evaluations. Again, defense counsel objected arguing the question called for an opinion on the validity of S.S.'s claim. The trial court agreed and the district attorney withdrew the question.

         The state rested and Steines testified on his own behalf. Steines testified that he moved to Louisiana from Canada to support his family. He stated that he agreed to raise S.S. because his daughter, S.S.'s mother, was having problems. Steines denied any inappropriate conduct with S.S. He explained the banana and condom incident by stating that is how safe sex is taught in Canadian schools. He testified he was "scared" because S.S. and her friends were talking about boys so he decided to educate her. Steines denied that he viewed pornography.

         The trial judge found Steines guilty as charged, specifically stating that he found S.S. to be credible and Steines to be completely lacking in ...


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