The morning after his acquittal on charges that he fatally abused his infant son, Quentin Stone texted a friend with his improved outlook on life.
“It looks a lot brighter outside than it did the past 18 months,” the Woodland man observed.
For Stone, 40, Thursday marked the first time in that year-and-a-half period he hadn’t lived under a cloud of suspicion, accused of shaking 3-month-old Samuel Stone so violently that he died of massive brain hemorrhaging on Oct. 9, 2012.
Stone and his family maintained that Sam suffered an unwitnessed fall from a bed onto a hardwood floor at their home a month before he died, and that the injuries that led to his death went unrecognized by his doctors despite repeated examinations in the following days.
A jury of nine men and three women sided with Stone, finding him not guilty of both felony and misdemeanor child-endangerment charges Wednesday following a monthlong trial and just over three days of deliberations.
Stone recalled his ordeal during an interview Friday morning in downtown Davis, where his focus was not to point fingers at the legal system, but rather reflect upon what he and his family had endured since the fall of 2012.
It began at Woodland Memorial Hospital, where Sam was taken by ambulance after suffering a major seizure at home on Oct. 3, and where doctors first raised suspicions that his injuries were the result of ongoing abuse. Stone, who had been caring for the infant alone when the seizure occurred, soon fell under scrutiny.
As Sam fought for his life at the UC Davis Medical Center’s pediatric intensive-care unit, Stone and his wife Sara, a popular Davis soccer coach, learned that their other two children — Jack, then 2, and Samuel’s twin Hank — had been removed from their custody by Child Protective Services. Police officers began arriving to take statements from the family.
Then came the uncertainty, the struggle of trying to move on after Samuel’s death without knowing if or when criminal charges would be filed. Stone recalled constantly looking over his shoulder, seeing police cars approach him and “wondering if they were coming to get me.”
Three days in jail
An inkling of what was ahead came in August 2013, when Stone’s sister-in-law informed him that she had been subpoenaed by the Yolo County grand jury, convened by the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office to hear its evidence in the case.
After a five-day, closed-door hearing, the grand jury issued a two-count indictment charging Stone with felony child abuse with an enhancement alleging infliction of great bodily injury, as well as a misdemeanor child abuse count.
Stone turned himself in to the Yolo County Jail, spending three days there before he was able to post bail.
“I don’t think you can ever really explain how awful an experience it is, being in there,” said Stone, an accountant whose previous law-enforcement history amounted to no more than a speeding ticket during his Fresno college days. “It’s obviously a place no one should ever have to experience.”
Initially represented by a private attorney, Stone following his jail release sought legal assistance from the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office, which assigned him the two-attorney team of Monica Brushia and Martha Sequeira.
“They are two of the most amazing women I’ve ever met,” Stone said, noting Brushia’s easy, constant smile and Sequeira’s zealous courtroom demeanor. Both are also parents, with Brushia, like the Stones, having a set of twins along with an older child.
Because the grand jury indictment was sealed at first, Brushia and Sequeira were the first to outline and explain the charges to Stone, who faced a maximum sentence of 12 years in state prison if convicted.
As the case progressed toward trial, the attorneys instructed Stone to spend time with his family, “and try to have a normal life as much as I could, and they were going to prepare.”
Stone’s trial began on April 21 in Yolo Superior Court Judge Paul Richardson’s courtroom, with Stone’s attorneys facing off against three prosecutors from the District Attorney’s Office. For the next four weeks, the jury heard from dozens of witnesses, including hospital personnel, friends and relatives of the Stone family, and medical experts from both sides who offered conflicting opinions of what they believed caused Samuel’s fatal injuries.
Throughout the proceedings, Brushia and Sequeira strived to keep their client’s spirits high.
“There was never really a day that they didn’t tell me they were happy with the way things were going,” Stone said. Additional encouragement came from the spectators’ gallery, where a regular contingent of friends and relatives — some from as far away as Washington and Colorado — watched the trial with photos of the Stone family hanging from lanyards around their necks.
“It was awesome,” Stone said of the support. “It was one of those things you don’t realize what it’s going to do for you until you see them walk into the courtroom. I wasn’t going home to my kids every night, but I got to be with my family.”
Though not required to by law, Stone took the witness stand in his own defense, maintaining his innocence during two days of questioning by his own attorneys as well as the prosecution.
The trial’s closing arguments brought standing-room-only attendance to the courtroom, each of Stone’s backers adorned in various shades of blue in memory of Sam. The color reflects the rubber bracelets that Sara Stone’s Davis Youth Soccer League club had made after the baby’s death, his name on one side, “Our Shooting Star” on the other.
By May 16, the jury had received the case, and the waiting game began.
Impasse, then verdict
On Tuesday, the third day of deliberations, Stone received a call from Brushia. There was a note from the jury to Judge Richardson, reporting an impasse on count one, the felony child endangerment charge.
Neither Stone nor his attorneys ever learned how the jury was divided at that point, but Richardson’s response — offering a brief instruction encouraging a “frank and forthright exchange of views” — “made (Sequeira) have a feeling that it was close,” Stone said.
The jury left the courthouse two hours later without reaching a verdict, returning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Just over an hour later, the decision was in.
News of a verdict “scared me, because you know it’s going one way or another,” Stone recalled. “We felt confident, but you just never know.”
As the jurors filed into the courtroom just after 11 a.m., an apprehensive Stone stood between his two attorneys. Brushia was smiling as always, he recalled, while Sequeira was already in tears.
Moments later, the court clerk spoke:
“Count one: We, the jury in the above-entitled action, find the defendant Quentin Paul Stone not guilty …”
“To hear that first ‘not guilty,’ it’s obviously something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life,” Stone said. “I remember the gasps, the ‘yes!’ from the crowd.”
Count two, the misdemeanor child abuse charge, brought a second not-guilty verdict, and “in my head I could finally feel that it was over,” Stone said. As he exchanged hugs with family and friends outside the historic Woodland courthouse, Stone was able to speak with several of the jurors in his case.
“They said they were sorry for my loss, and they hoped I’d be able to get my life back together now,” said Stone, who is still limited to weekly supervised visits with Jack, now 4, and Hank, who turns 2 in July. “We’re just working now to reunify the family.”
Meanwhile, the memories of the family’s 93 days with Sam linger in Stone’s mind.
Because of the legal ordeal, “we really haven’t been able to honor him in the way that we’d like to. It’s like we had to put him in our rear view while we took care of all of this first,” he said.
“Now, we can put him at the forefront.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene