Stanley Weber Trial: A Retrospective

Sep 30, 2019

Stanley Patrick Weber in Rapid City in 2017, in a Wall Street Journal photo taken by Kristina Barker and used in coverage of a PBS Frontline/ WSJ investigation.
Credit Kristina Barker, Wall Street Journal, PBS

Stanley Patrick Weber was convicted on Sept. 27, 2019, of 11 counts of sexual abuse against four Pine Ridge boys who were his patients. The former Indian Health Services pediatrician was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the trial took place in the federal courthouse in Rapid City.

Weber was previously convicted in Montana of similar charges and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Weber’s crimes garnered national attention, in particular in a joint investigation by PBS’s Frontline and the Wall Street Journal.

In March, the White House announced it was forming a task force to determine how abuse could have happened for 20 years in two states without IHS’s knowing about it and stopping it.

Jurors heard testimony from the four victims, now grown men, as well as three other victims whose testimony bolstered the government’s case.

SDPB’s Victoria Wicks sat through the trial and reported during the week. In her writing, she draws on the information she heard in the courtroom, her interview with South Dakota’s U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons, and her own 14-year experience assisting crime victims.

For her coverage of this case, Victoria Wicks won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

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In Rapid City, over the course of two days, seven victims testify to the rape, sexual contact, and indignities Stanley Weber committed against them when they were children.

They’re not children anymore, not on the outside. They’re grown men, and some of them are tattooed and tough and a little bit frightening, but as they speak, the scared and scarred little boys that still live within can be heard.

One of the victims—we’ll call him Eric—says he’s been on his own since he was 10 years old. One of the lawyers asks him if he had gone to school. He replies that you can’t wake up, take a shower, have breakfast, and wait at the bus stop when you live in a car. So… no. No school.

Eric is 32 years old and currently lives at the South Dakota state penitentiary. He sits in the witness box wearing inmate garb and handcuffs.

Of the seven victims testifying, he had the longest association with Weber. He got into trouble young and after his grandmother died he was rejected by relatives—his father and mother had separated and formed new families, and he didn’t fit into either one of them. He turned to Weber for money, a place to crash, and the kind of support usually given by kin. He says he wanted Weber to adopt him. He thought Weber loved him.

This victim testifies that after he went to prison and had access to television, he started watching Law and Order: SVU and discovered that what Weber had done to him was a crime. About that same time, an investigator came to talk with him about Weber, further emphasizing the criminal nature of the relationship.

In closing arguments, federal prosecutor Sarah Collins points out that the other victims revealed anger, sorrow, embarrassment, and shame when talking about the physical acts Weber forced them into. But Eric started crying when he said he learned Weber had used him for sex, when he realized that Weber didn’t love him.

“Broke my heart,” Eric said, as he dropped his head and lifted his manacled hands to push up his glasses and wipe tears from his eyes.

The children Weber chose as victims shared some characteristics that left them defenseless. U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons explains.

“The evidence at trial came out that these children were in many ways groomed by the defendant here. He selected the ones that didn’t have family support, the ones that seemed the most vulnerable, the ones that he thought he could get away with molesting,” Parsons says. “This defendant befriended these people before he raped and molested them. It’s tragic, but that’s a pattern that we see.”

Victims of childhood abuse, especially those who don’t tell, or those who tell but aren’t believed, might develop one or more behaviors from a predictable set. They act out in anger, run away, become depressed, abuse alcohol or other drugs, have troubled personal relationships, become promiscuous.

Some cut themselves, or starve themselves, or try to kill themselves. Some succeed. Some commit crimes.

Of the seven victims who testified at Weber’s most recent trial, two were prison inmates, another was on work release, and at least one was on probation.

Weber was charged with abusing only four of the Pine Ridge victims in this trial.

Two of the other witnesses had been sexually assaulted in Montana, where Weber had already been convicted and sentenced.

The other one is a Pine Ridge resident, now 40 years old, and as a witness, he is angry and emphatic. In a deep growling voice he blasts out answers to the prosecutor’s questions and uses graphic terms to describe what Weber did to him, jabbing his finger toward the defendant more than once to point out who had raped him.

He says he went to Weber for physicals because he wanted to play sports in school. He went back because he thought the examinations were necessary for school, even though every time, the same thing happened: Weber fondled the boy’s genitals, put on a blue glove, and shoved his fingers into the boy’s rectum.

“I thought I was getting molested,” the witness says, but he didn’t tell anyone; “I kept it deep down in my heart.”

Eventually, he says, he quit sports and dropped out of school.

The fact that Weber was convicted in Montana was not allowed into evidence, but details of those crimes were. Ron Parsons explains that balancing act.

“Sometimes evidence is relevant, but it’s still so unfairly prejudicial that it should not be admitted. One of the weighings that courts have made over the years is that prior convictions usually don’t come in, the fact that someone has been convicted of similar acts,” the U.S. Attorney says.

“However, if a jury can hear a witness testify about a similar act and decide for themselves whether that witness is credible, that’s evidence they can use in determining whether the defendant has a tendency or a proclivity to commit the same kind of acts that he’s charged with in the current case.”

There are hazards in bringing in witnesses who are handcuffed and wearing jail clothes. The jury might get a negative impression—that the witness is either weak or dangerous, felonious, captured by justice. Not believable.

That’s how Stanley Weber looked at the pretrial conference on Sept. 23. There he was wearing a red-striped jail jumpsuit and handcuffs. Small, stooped, gray, balding, bespectacled, old. Captured by justice. And he had been, in Montana, but in South Dakota he was still innocent until proven guilty.

And so he wore a façade of innocence at his Rapid City trial, decked out in a black suit and white shirt.

Ron Parsons says that veneer is vital to preserve the defendant’s right to a fair trial. “We don’t want the jury to render a verdict simply because they believe he’s been convicted previously of similar acts.”

At trial, Weber doesn’t call any witnesses, and he exercises his ongoing constitutional right to remain silent, a decision the jury is instructed not to interpret as a sign of guilt.

Instead, Denver attorney Harvey Steinberg makes Weber’s case by cross-examining the government’s witnesses and drawing conclusions in closing arguments. He points to the victims’ inconsistent memories, and he calls the investigation inadequate. One witness says he was with his grandmother when he saw Weber in a parking lot. Why didn’t the investigator interview the grandmother? Another witness says he told his stepfather there was blood in the toilet after he used it, although he did not tell that Weber had raped him earlier that day. Why wasn’t the stepfather interviewed?

Steinberg also defended Weber in Montana, and he’s appealing the conviction there.

Weber is 70 years old, and he’s serving an 18-year sentence. There’s a good chance he’ll die before serving out that term.

But Parsons says his team decided to try Weber in South Dakota anyway because the Pine Ridge victims also deserve justice. “They deserved to have their day in court, to have their stories told, to have their truth come out, and they deserved to have a verdict rendered against Stanley Patrick Weber for what he did to them.”

In Rapid City, justice came swiftly. The jury came back about four hours after leaving the courtroom to deliberate, and during that time, they had lunch.

Parsons says he hopes the verdict vindicates the children who didn’t tell anyone because they didn’t think their accusations against a doctor would be believed.

“I’m proud of these victims,” Parsons says. “I’m proud of the men who testified about being sexually assaulted, raped, molested as boys by their pediatrician. We stand by them, and we’re glad, and we hope this brings them some measure of peace. And the fact that these men were able to come forward and finally tell their stories and have a jury hear them and render justice based on their testimony, we’re just incredibly proud and grateful.”

VW: “The jury believed them.”
RP: “The jury believed them.”

Stanley Weber’s sentencing will happen a few months from now, and in the interim, a federal court services officer will conduct a pre-sentence investigation. The officer will interview Stanley Weber, if he chooses to speak—because he might appeal, he still has the right not to incriminate himself—and the officer will talk with the men who testified.

At sentencing, these victims will once again have the opportunity to be heard.

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To see the Frontline documentary "Predator on the Reservation" and to read WSJ's article, click on the link below.

https://www.wsj.com/video/series/wsj-frontline/predator-on-the-reservation-a-documentary-film-by-frontline-and-wsj/7DA882E8-5139-4948-AA92-2455E94386EE