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Acquittal in hoax call that led to sex assault

A Florida man was acquitted Tuesday of making a 3 1/2-hour hoax phone call that resulted in a Kentucky teenager’s being strip searched and sexually assaulted at a McDonald’s.
David Stewart, right, reaches over to thank his defense attorney Steve Romines, left, after his acquittal Tuesday in Shepherdsville, Ky.Keith Williams / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Florida man was acquitted Tuesday of making a hoax phone call that resulted in a Kentucky teenager’s being sexually assaulted.

The acquittal of David Stewart, 38, of Fountain, Fla., on charges of impersonating a police officer, soliciting sodomy and soliciting sexual abuse, came after a weeklong trial that focused on a phone call and strip search at a Mount Washington, Ky., McDonald's in April 2004.

Prosecutors say Stewart claimed to be a police officer and induced managers to strip search an 18-year-old female employee.

Stewart, dressed in a dark blue suit and blue shirt, sat silently as the verdict was read while family members seated behind him wiped away tears.

Steve Romines, the attorney for Stewart, said the jury's verdict showed the weakness of the prosecution's case.

"There are a lot of questions unanswered in this case," he said. "The only thing I knew for sure was my client didn't do it."

Despite verdict, prosecutor sees guilt
Prosecutor Mike Mann said that despite the verdict he thinks Stewart made the call.

"I don't think the evidence points to anyone but David Stewart," Mann said.

Even with the acquittal, Stewart isn't out of legal jeopardy. The restaurant employee is suing McDonald's and Stewart for $200 million, claiming the company didn't protect her from the hoax. The fast-food chain has claimed the girl should have realized Stewart was not a police officer and Stewart and Nix are responsible for whatever damages she suffered. The trial is scheduled for early 2007.

Also, Mann and Romines said Stewart remains a suspect in a multitude of similar cases around the country, stretching from Florida to Oklahoma to Idaho. Romines said the case brought in Kentucky is the strongest of the bunch, which is why it was the only one brought to trial.

"This is the best case they had and we saw how strong it was," Romines said. "If they want to charge him, bring it on."

Mann said even if Stewart isn't charged in other states, it appears the hoax calls have stopped since Stewart's arrest two-and-a-half years ago.

"I have not heard of any others," Mann said.

Circumstantial case
During a week of testimony and evidence, jurors heard a circumstantial case from prosecutors, who showed a timeline of the case, fuzzy surveillance photos of a man buying calling cards and put on testimony about similar incidents in Tulsa, Okla., and Idaho Falls, Idaho, that were traced to calling cards found in Stewart's home in Fountain, Fla.

But there were no witnesses to identify Stewart as being on the pay phone where the call originated and no voice recording of the call to compare to Stewart speaking. Mann and Romines said that lack of direct evidence may have affected the jury's decision after an hour and 40 minutes of deliberations.

"There's no proof in this case," Stewart said.

During the trial, the victim testified that the caller accused her of theft and said she was forced to remove her clothes to prove her innocence. Prosecutors say the call lasted 3 1/2 hours and during it, the victim was forced to perform sexual acts on Walter "Wes" Nix Jr., the boyfriend of the store's assistant manager, Donna Summers.

Nix pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and other crimes on Feb. 2 and is serving a 5-year prison sentence. Summers entered an Alford plea later that month to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful imprisonment and was placed on probation.