ELKTON — Post-conviction motions have put sentencing on hold for a man who is facing up to 100 years in penalties for sexually abusing an 8-year-old boy inside their Cecil County residence over approximately a two-year period, according to court records.
In September 2019 — some 15 months ago — a Cecil County Circuit Court jury found the defendant, Ashton Hozia Stroud, 27, guilty of sodomy, child sex abuse, second-degree assault, second-degree child abuse and two counts each of second-degree rape, third-degree sex offense and attempted second-degree rape at the conclusion of a two-day trial. Jurors deliberated approximately three hours, before returning the guilty verdicts.
Stroud’s sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 9, 2019, but it was postponed. His sentencing was rescheduled for Feb. 24, but it, too, was postponed. As of Monday, a new sentencing date for Stroud had not been scheduled.
On Dec. 11, Retired Cecil County Circuit Court Judge V. Michael Whelan presided over a courtroom status conference, a hearing in which the judge confers with the prosecutors and defense lawyers to gauge the progress of the case for, in part, scheduling purposes.
One of the reasons for the delay in sentencing is a motion for a new trial that Stroud’s lawyers filed after he was convicted last year. A hearing on that motion has not been held yet, as other matters relating to the case are pending.
There have been motions filed, for example, relating to questions concerning Stroud’s mental competency.
Defense lawyers requested, in one of those motions, that a psychiatrist of their own choosing conduct an evaluation of Stroud and then submit a report of his or her findings. That defense motion was filed after a state psychiatrist used by prosecutors had found that Stroud is mentally competent. That psychiatric evaluation of Stroud by state psychiatrists occurred after defense lawyers had filed their initial mental competency motion.
In April 2018, a Cecil County grand jury handed up an indictment against Stroud after an investigation by Elkton Police Department detectives and agents with the Child Advocacy Center, which, part of the Cecil County HealDepartment, works closely with law enforcement and the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Stroud has remained in custody without bond since his April 2018 arrest. Court records indicate that Stroud currently is incarcerated in Howard County Detention Center.
Stroud committed his offenses against the boy between December 2016 and March 2018 while living in the same household — one characterized by trial prosecutors as being in “disarray and chaos,” a place where things easily could be overlooked, according to court records and Cecil Whig archives.
A North Carolina native, Stroud married a Cecil County woman with five young children – four of whom lived with her, including the victim – and they resided together in Cecil County, according to court testimony and lawyers on both sides.
Also undisputed, prosecutors reported that Stroud and the boy’s mother were addicted to drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine; that they fought with each other fiercely and frequently; and that there was little structure within the household and no tidiness inside the residence.
In mid-March 2018, the boy confided in his grandmother about Stroud sexually assaulting him and he did so within days after he had moved into her home with his mother and his siblings. At that point, Stroud was living elsewhere. At some point, Stroud admitted himself into a drug rehab in North Carolina.
After the grandmother relayed the information to the boy’s mother, the women reported the allegations to authorities, which launched an investigation.
In a recorded interview conducted by a Child Advocacy Center caseworker, the boy reported that Stroud had threatened to kill his mother if he told anyone about what he had been doing to him.
The boy did not report Stroud’s molestation of him until he no longer was living in the same house with Stroud and, therefore, felt safe, according to prosecutors.
Defense lawyers argued at trial that a medical examination of the boy could not “exclude or include” sexual abuse and that only the boy’s DNA was found on an article of his clothing that investigator had collected and sampled. Defense lawyers also maintained at trial that Stroud was cooperative with caseworkers and detectives, proactively so at times, and that he even volunteered to take a polygraph test.
In addition, defense lawyers pointed out, Stroud took the witness stand in his own defense – even though he had a legal right to remain silent. During his testimony, Stroud maintained that he did not sexually assault the boy, but did acknowledge that he sometimes beat him with a belt and that he abused drugs and alcohol.
Moreover, the defense asserted that the boy’s mother orchestrated false allegations against Stroud in retaliation for him contacting Social Services caseworkers and accusing her of child neglect. Stroud had filed his formal complaint after he and the boy’s mother had one of their heated arguments and she, in response, left him at the house with the children for a long period of time.
The jury found Stroud guilty of 10 charges on Sept. 23, 2019, at the conclusion of his two-day trial.
Seconds after those guilty verdicts were read, Stroud rose from his seat at the defense table and blurted, “I object,” and then expressed his desire to make a courtroom statement, before his voice trailed off.
By that time, two courtroom deputies and a correctional officer had made their way to Stroud.
Cecil County Circuit Court Judge William W. Davis Jr. responded from the bench, “This is not the time,” and ordered Stroud to sit and refrain from speaking.
The judge also informed Stroud that his assistant public defenders would make objections when appropriate.
But Stroud remained standing and stared silently at Davis for a few seconds. The judge, once again, ordered Stroud to take a seat and cautioned him that he would be removed from the courtroom if he did not comply.
Stroud then looked across the room at the jurors, still seated in the jury box, and loudly maintained, “I’m innocent. I’m innocent. Only God can judge me.”
Deputies escorted Stroud out of the courtroom through a nearby side door, which shut behind them seconds after Stroud had uttered the last word of his comment.