VERNAL A man who claims to be the leader of an American Indian tribe testified at his preliminary hearing Thursday that the 12-year-old girl he's accused of victimizing was promised to him by her mother in exchange for half a cooler of energy bars.
Dale N. Stevens of Vernal said the agreement was reached while the girl and her family were staying in one of his trailers on land owned by his "tribe" in Uintah County in early 2007.
"That's the way Indians do things ... if they're living under their old ways," the 69-year-old said of the trade. "I became her guardian, put it that way, I became her guardian."
Stevens, who was bound over for trial on charges of burglary and attempted lewdness involving a child following Thursday's hearing, said he is the chief of the Wampanoag Nation. While the federal government does recognize the Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts, it does not recognize Stevens' group, which according federal court records was founded in 2003 at an Arby's restaurant in Provo.
The alleged victim, who is now 13, testified that Stevens entered the trailer where her family was staying at least four times during the night of May 19 without knocking. The girl had been left alone with her 2-year-old sister while her mother and four other siblings attended a relative's birthday party.
"I'd have to scream at him to leave every time he came over ," the girl said of Stevens, noting that he'd always made her uncomfortable. "He kept saying it was time for me to give myself to him."
During one of his visits, the girl said she told Stevens she was old enough to care for herself and didn't need him checking in on her. She said he responded by telling her to take off her pants so he could see if she was old enough, a comment Stevens denied making.
The girl said she eventually drifted off to sleep, but awoke to find Stevens standing over her in his underwear and a T-shirt.
Stevens admitted to entering the trailer at one point during the night in his underwear. He testified that the reason for his repeated visits was to ensure that the fire in the enclosed wood-burning stove was not out of control. He said he could he could see the glow from the stove from his bedroom window.
"I was just terrified they were going to set the trailer on fire and burn 'em up," Stevens said, adding that he was undressed on the one occasion because, "If I stopped to get dressed I wouldn't have had any chance of saving anyone."
The girl's mother testified that when she returned home around 5 a.m. her daughter told her about Stevens' alleged behavior. The pair barricaded the door with a couch and later fled the property on an ATV.
After nearly three hours of testimony, 8th District Court Judge A. Lynn Payne ruled that probable cause existed for Stevens to stand trial on the burglary and attempted lewdness charges. He dismissed a voyeurism charge that had been filed shortly before the hearing, ruling that the state hadn't presented enough evidence.A status hearing for the case is scheduled for April 15. Stevens is free on bond.
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