Special verdict guarantees lengthy term

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SANDPOINT — A Bonner County jury which convicted a former Sandpoint man of lewd conduct and sexual abuse of a minor rendered a special verdict Thursday guaranteeing a mandatory minimum sentence.

The jury of nine women and three men, who convicted Steve Ronald Ennis Jr. on Wednesday, ruled that he was a repeat offender due to a prior conviction for child sex abuse.

Jurors were unaware of Ennis’s prior conviction during the two-day trial in 1st District Court due to a defense motion which successfully argued that it would unfairly bias the panel against him, court records show.

Ennis’s conviction triggered an addendum to the criminal complaint filed by Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall seeking a sentencing enhancement because Ennis has a judgment against him for unlawful sex with a minor in California in 1995. Jurors in the Bonner County case found Ennis guilty of touching the a girl’s breasts and genitals in 2015, when she was between the ages of 11-12.

Idaho law dictates that juries must decide whether defendants should be subject to such a sentencing enhancement, although jurors in the Ennis case had the unusual task of verifying his identity because Ennis operated under at least five different identities socially and officially. His aliases included Tristan Davis, Scott Wayne McCaslin, Eric David Clary, Whitney Wayne Embrey and Todd Daniel Smoke, according to court documents.

The alleged victim’s mother testified that she understood Ennis to be Tristan Davis when she first met him, although she would come to learn he utilized aliases.

“He stated that is how he lived his life,” The victim’s mother said.

Ennis, 55, was initially prosecuted as Davis in the San Bernadino statutory rape case, although he was ultimately convicted under his true surname, according to documents obtained through a Sandpoint Police investigation.

“That was my goal — to prove Tristan Davis was Steve Ennis,” Det. Michael Aerni testified on Thursday.

Also called to the witness stand — via telephone — was Taylor Richert, an Idaho State Police fingerprint tech who analyzed fingerprint cards generated by jails in California and Idaho and determined they matched.

“My conclusion is that these two individuals are one in the same,” Richert testified.

The jury’s verdict means Ennis will receive a mandatory minimum term of 15 years in prison, according to Idaho Code. He faces up to life in prison on the lewd conduct charge and 25 years on the sexual abuse counts when he is sentenced on Jan. 8, 2019.

Ennis declined to be present in court when either of the jury’s verdicts were announced. A defendant’s presence is required at every stage of a trial under Idaho’s criminal court rules, although Judge Barbara Buchanan said the governing rule also holds that a defendant can be voluntarily absent after the trial has commenced.

“I don’t think we gain anything by physically dragging Mr. Ennis to the courtroom,” Buchanan said.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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