SALT LAKE CITY — The 14-year-old boy said he often saw William Estell near the playground of the apartment complex where he lived last summer.
He only knew the 40-year-old man as "Will." The man would walk around or ride his bicycle, talking to "really everybody" and playing or roughhousing with the children.
Police believe Estell may have been molesting young boys for 20 years. He has been charged in two separate cases in 3rd District Court and was ordered to stand trial on the charges in one of the cases Monday after a hearing on the evidence.
The boy testified that Estell made casual conversation with him frequently. On one occasion, he took the boy and a friend to a gas station where he bought them food and drinks, the boy said, and another time he told the boy that he had accidentally grabbed a boy's leg once.
"He asked me if I would overreact if he accidentally touched me in an inappropriate place," the boy said in court. "And I told him that if I knew it was an accident, I wouldn't make that big of a deal out of it, but if it was on purpose, then yeah."
Sometime in August or September 2012, the boy was playing at a park near 1600 South and Riverside Drive. He said he was with his younger brother and a friend just before dark when Estell started roughhousing with him. At one point, the man's hand went up the boy's shorts and Estell fondled him, the boy said.
"I was in shock," he said. "I didn't even know how to react to that."
The boy's brother and friend did not see the incident, the boy said, but returned to their homes, leaving him alone with Estell. The man told the boy to follow him.
"I was thinking, 'I don't know what this guy is going to do,'" the boy said, explaining that he complied and followed Estell to a bench near the Jordan River. "I was pretty scared because he was so much bigger than me and stronger than me."
The boy said he worried about the closeness of the river, thinking of how rapists sometimes murder their victims and that if he were killed, Estell could throw his body in the river. He said the man sexually abused him until he saw an "out" and said he needed to go home.
The boy testified that Estell asked for a kiss, but he refused. The man walked him home. The boy was clear in court that he did not want what happened to take place and that he didn't feel he could leave before he did. He said he told his parents about the touching, but nothing more.
Salt Lake City police detective Scott Mourtgos testified that Estell told police in an interview that the boy went with him willingly and even initiated some of the sexual contact. But the officer said Estell also said the boy did say "no" at some point.
"I think he took the tact that many sexual offenders I talk to take, which is blaming the victim," Mourtgos said.
Estell was charged with three counts of forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony, and one count of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, in connection with the incident.
Defense attorney Nick Falcone argued that the charges did not fit the testimony, that the interaction was consensual and that the victim could have left, as the incident took place in a public area.
Prosecutor Coral Sanchez-Rose countered that coercion and enticement took place and pointed to the boy's young age and admissions made by Estell in which she said the man admitted to being in the area to meet children, admitted to being sexually attracted to children and described his grooming process.
Investigators believe Estell is a predator who sought out young boys at parks, concerts, sleepovers and other places where he might likely find young boys, according to court and jail records. Some of the cases allegedly happened several years ago.
Estell was arrested for investigation of molesting a 5-year-old boy he was baby-sitting in 2006, according to a Salt Lake County Jail report. In another incident in May 2012, Estell was at a concert and inappropriately touched a 13-year-old boy he was sitting next to, the report states.
In June 2012, he allegedly molested another 11-year-old boy. Estell also told detectives he was "sexually attracted to male children," according to the report.
In June 2011, Estell was charged with sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, and accused of inappropriately touching a 14-year-old boy he sat next to on a TRAX train.
"From the second the defendant saw that 14-year-old, that 14-year-old didn't stand a chance," Sanchez-Rose told Judge Paul Maughan.
The judge ordered Estell to stand trial on all four of the charges. An arraignment was set for May 31.
Estell is also facing four counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and sodomy on a child, all first-degree felonies, in a second, pending case. He was ordered to stand trial on those charges as well, but his attorneys are contesting the decision and will argue their case June 19.