EVANSTON — A 32-year-old Evanston man has been found guilty of attempted sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree. A jury of eight men and four women delivered the verdict in Third District Court on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the conclusion of a two-day trial.
Sean Wayne Weston faced two counts related to his 2015 relationship with a girl who was 15 at the time, including the attempted sexual abuse charge and a charge of attempted sexual exploitation of a child. The relationship between the two occurred almost exclusively via Facebook messaging over a period of several months.
The messages were found by the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office in 2017 after a search warrant was obtained for Weston’s Facebook messages during a separate investigation. Weston initially met the girl at the Evanston Rec Center, where he was a regular user of the facilities.
Testimony from the girl, now 18, comprised the bulk of the testimony during the trial, as portions of numerous pages of Facebook exchanges between the two were read in court. Messages included many that were sexually explicit in nature and repeated efforts by Weston to get the girl to sneak out of her home to meet him on an almost daily basis. There were also multiple requests for photographs made by Weston.
When Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson rested the state’s case, attorney Elisabeth Trefonas of Jackson, acting as Weston’s public defender, moved for acquittal on both counts on the grounds that no evidence of guilt had been presented. Judge Joseph Bluemel granted the request for acquittal on the charge of attempted sexual exploitation of a child, which hinged on whether or not Weston had attempted to entice the girl into making child pornography.
Wyoming law narrowly defines child pornography to include genitalia, depictions of sexual acts or simulated sex acts. In messages between the two, Weston requested “sexy” photos, “booty” photos and breast photos, but did not explicitly request anything that would meet the definition of child pornography. Therefore, Weston was acquitted on that count. However, Bluemel ruled there was evidence that a reasonable jury could rely on to find Weston guilty of the attempted sexual abuse charge and allowed the trial to proceed.
Weston testified on his own behalf and said he would describe the messages between the two as “inappropriate, sexual and graphic at times.” However, he said he never intended to actually follow through on what was discussed in the messages because he knew she was under age.
“It seemed like a game we were both playing,” he said.
The Facebook messages showed that on one occasion Weston indicated he was on his way to pick the girl up at about 1 a.m., when she messaged she was speaking to police officers and he said he would go back home. The girl testified she frequently made up excuses as to why she couldn’t sneak out and made up the story about speaking to police because she was scared of what would happen if she were actually alone with Weston.
In closing arguments, Howieson argued Weston was grooming a young girl who was flattered by the attention from an older man and who wanted to be loved. She also argued it was the girl who prevented the two from actually having sex, even resorting to making up stories to prevent it, in spite of Weston’s repeated urging for her to sneak out of her home late at night and repeated graphic discussions of things he wanted to do with her.
Trefonas said there was no evidence Weston ever even touched the girl and the messages between them were not sufficient to prove he ever intended to actually have sex with her. “Conversations, even with a minor, are not illegal,” she said, adding that having desire or being tempted were not illegal either, “not without action.”
The jury found Weston guilty and he was back in court on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 25, for a sentencing hearing as well as a probation revocation hearing as Weston was on probation for a burglary charge in 2015, when his interaction with the young girl occurred.
Trefonas argued strongly for a sentence of extended probation time for both the burglary and the attempted second-degree sexual abuse of a minor conviction, given mitigating factors including Weston’s own background of childhood abuse and his primary custody of his young son. Weston himself, in a tearful statement to the court, pleaded with Bluemel to issue a sentence of probation to allow him to continue to be a father to his sons.
Bluemel said he took those mitigating factors into account; however, he did not deem it appropriate.
“The court would very much like to give probation,” he said, “but that would unduly depreciate the seriousness” of Weston’s conduct and the offense resulting in his conviction. Bluemel said he was convinced that if Weston had successfully gotten the girl to sneak out, he would have followed through on his attempts to have sexual contact with her.
Weston was sentenced to a term of no less than one year and no more than two years for the burglary offense and no less than 18 months and no more than five years for the attempted second-degree sexual abuse of a minor offense. The sentences are to be served consecutively at the Wyoming State Penitentiary.