Three men struggled Tuesday as they testified in great detail about a former pediatrician with the Indian Health Service in Pine Ridge who they say repeatedly sexually abused them when they were young boys.
The emotional testimony came on the first day of a federal trial against Stanley Patrick Weber that's expected to last through next Tuesday in Rapid City.
The prosecution says Weber sexually abused multiple boys who were too ashamed to come forward until later in life, while the defense says their client supported the vulnerable boys and is an easy target since he was a white man on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Weber, 70, is charged with 11 sexual abuse crimes that he allegedly committed against four Native American boys, some as young as nine, in Pine Ridge between 1995 and 2011. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of certain crimes.
Weber appeared calm and attentive during the trial, his face and body language unchanging as the victims described his alleged abuse.
This trial is not about a man abusing male victims, it's about them being "children when it happened," prosecutor Eric Kelderman told the jury of seven men and seven women (two will later be dismissed). And he said the trial is about Weber, not the IHS system. That may be "an issue for another day," Kelderman said.
Harvey Steinberg, one of Weber's private Denver-based lawyers, said his client cared for poor young boys by giving them money and was an"odd duck" who stood out and was "easy to pick on" for being a white man who lived and worked alone in Pine Ridge. The boys returned to Weber's office and home multiple times after they said they were abused and their accusations "didn't surface until years later," he said.
Steinberg asked Fred Bennett, the Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent who began investigating the case in 2015, if people from the Pine Ridge Reservation can be homophobic as well as suspicious and biased against outsiders. Bennett said some people can be at times.
Bennett told prosecutor Sarah Collins that the two victims he interviewed were at first reluctant to talk about Weber. But one was "fighting back tears" while the other's fingers trembled as they began to share what he did to them.
That emotion was again on display when three of the four victims testified Tuesday. Some said they used to know each other, but that they never told each other about the abuse.
The first victim, a 32-year-old living in Rapid City, said Weber sexually abused him "almost every time" he visited him for asthma treatment, starting when he was 7. The man had to take time to collect his emotions before describing four specific times when Weber sexually abused and raped him.
"It hurt" and "felt wrong," the man said of what Weber did to him, adding that he later found blood in his stool. "It was a doctor," he said when asked why he didn't call for help.
"I knew it was coming. I was ready for it," the man said when asked why he agreed to speak with law enforcement in 2018.
The second victim, a 32-year-old living in Sioux Falls, said he had to raise himself once his grandma died when he was 10. "I had to walk in a man's shoes when I was a boy," he said.
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He said Weber, who he met at the IHS when he was 12, was "the only one there for me" so he once asked Weber to adopt him. He said Weber paid him to do odd jobs at his government-provided house, and that he used the money for food and to stay with his aunt, who made him pay her in cash or marijuana to live with her.
The man said Weber began paying him more, sometimes up to $200, and giving him clothing, food, opioid pain-killers and alcohol after sexually abusing him. He said he's now addicted to opioids and struggling with withdrawal symptoms. It's "tough to talk about," the man said before explaining how he began having sex with Weber.
The man said in 2004, when he was a 17-year-old at the juvenile jail in Rapid City, he asked staff if Weber could take him out for a day since his parents weren't picking up the phone. He said the jail agreed to give him a "pass" and Weber picked him up, bought him $500 worth of clothes and fast food, gave him $300 and sexually assaulted him in a car and motel. Weber then let him run away instead of returning him to the jail, the man said.
The man admitted to Steinberg that he said he was never sexually assaulted when asked by a law enforcement officer who transferred him to jail, and by jail and prison intake staff. He told Collins that he wouldn't have felt comfortable disclosing this information to them.
"He's trying to make it seem like it never happened, but it did," the man said of Steinberg's questioning.
The man said Weber stopped having sex with him when he was 21, but continued calling and writing letters to him until 2014. He said he didn't realize Weber had done anything wrong until he was interviewed by BIA agent Bennett in 2015, when he was 27 or 28, and when he began watching Law & Order: SVU.
"When I realized that what was happening to me was wrong, it broke my heart, " he said as he bowed his head and wiped tears from his face.
The third victim, a 28-year-old living in Pine Ridge, said Weber abused him twice at the IHS when he was 11 and 12, once taking photos of his genitals. He said Weber called the abuse "our little secret."
When he was 13, the man said, he agreed to work at Weber's house, where Weber gave him a beer and said he "had to earn it" if he wanted to make money. He teared up as he said complied when Weber told him to give him oral sex. Weber then gave him $100.
"I was ashamed, embarrassed about myself," he said when asked why he never told anyone about the abuse.
The second and third victims admitted to Steinberg that they lied to law enforcement when they said they weren't involved in a 2006 assault against Weber. The second witness told Collins that he's used to denying things and that it was "snitching."
"We gave him what he deserved" and Weber didn't press charges against us "because he knows what he did," the third victim said of the assault.
The third victim will finish his testimony on Wednesday. A fourth South Dakota victim, two Montana victims, four nurses who worked with Weber and others are expected to testify during the trial.
Weber has already been convicted by a Montana jury of four sexual abuse crimes against two boys on the Blackfeet Reservation, where he worked at the IHS in Browning from 1992-1995 before coming to Pine Ridge. Weber, who is appealing his conviction, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty last month after being indicted on two new charges in South Dakota.
Accusations about Weber sexually abusing boys circulated among his co-workers, patients and wider community when he worked at both reservations, according to a Wall Street Journal/Frontline investigation. But some complaints were ignored and not investigated, while others resulted in investigations that cleared him of any wrongdoing.