ELKTON — A man accused of sexually abusing an 8-year-old boy inside their Cecil County residence over approximately a two-year period is facing up to 100 years in sentences after a jury found him guilty of 10 criminal charges Monday.
Jurors convicted the defendant, Ashton Hozia Stroud, 26, 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, after deliberating approximately three hours at the end of a two-day trial.
Sentencing is set for Dec. 9. Stroud remains in custody.
Seconds after the 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, Denise Winston and Michael Fiol, would 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.
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 Health Department, works closely with law enforcement and the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Stroud committed his offenses against the boy between December 2016 and March 2018, according to that 33-count indictment, which alleges that Stroud also molested three other children — now ages 8, 6 and 5 — inside that same Cecil County residence. Stroud is awaiting three other criminal trials relating to his alleged molestation of those children.
In her opening and closing statements, Assistant State’s Attorney Shauna Lee emphasized to jurors that Stroud sodomized and committed other sex acts against the boy amid a household environment of “disarray and chaos,” a place where things easily could be overlooked.
“This was a house of horrors, a house of chaos, a house where (the victim) could be (sodomized) by a man,” Lee outlined. “These were crimes of silence that occurred when no one was looking. No one was around. No was was caring for (the victim).”
Lee told jurors that Stroud would molest the boy after waking him “in the middle of the night.”
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, Lee 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.
Lee told jurors that 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.
Prosecutors played the video of that interview for jurors in the courtroom. The boy, now 9, also testified on the witness stand Friday.
In both, the boy was hazy regarding when Stroud sexually abused him and, to a point, where inside the house he did it.
However, the boy provided consistent details of what Stroud did to him. The boy also recalled how he felt physically and, to a lesser point, emotionally when Stroud was molesting him. In addition, the boy provided apt descriptions of sex-related things that normally, according to Lee, would be beyond a child’s grasp or familiarity.
“It hurt,” the boy testified at one point.
Winston pointed out to jurors that prosecutors did not present any scientific and, or, medical evidence to support their sexual abuse charges against Stroud.
Doctors at Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., found no signs of physical trauma to the boy, after conducting a thorough examination of him, she reminded jurors, commenting, “They came back normal.”
Lee countered that, because the boy could not specify when Stroud sexually abused him, it could not be determined how much time had elapsed between that sexual abuse and the medical examination of the boy.
The last sentence of the findings report indicates that the medical examination could not “exclude or include” sexual abuse, according to information released at trial.
Winston also reported that only the boy’s DNA was found an article of his clothing that investigators had collected and sampled, Winston emphasized.
Lee told jurors that several other articles of the boy’s clothing were not collected and tested.
Stroud was cooperative with caseworkers and detectives, proactively so at times, and that he even volunteered to take a polygraph test, Winston told jurors.
In addition, Winston noted that 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.
The defense also 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.
“All of a sudden, a few days later, these (child sex abuse) charges pop up,” Winston told jurors.
Lee countered that it was during that time period that the boy found himself no longer living in the same house with Stroud, which made him feel safe enough to tell. The prosecutor also noted that the boy gave relatively consistent accounts of what Stroud did to him, using descriptions that typically would be beyond a child’s scope.