Trial opens for man accused of sending sexual messages to ‘boy’ on internet

Argus-Press Photo/Josh Champlin Chad Stiff is seen during his trial Tuesday in 35th Circuit Court in Corunna.

CORUNNA — Just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, 35th Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart sent a note to the jury, asking whether members wanted to be excused for the day and continue deliberations today, or if they wanted to work until they came to a verdict in a criminal sexual conduct trial.

The jury’s reply came quickly — they wished to continue deliberations.

At approximately 7:45 p.m., the jury found Chad Stiff of Owosso guilty of two charges — accosting a minor for immoral purposes and using a computer to commit a crime.

Stiff showed no visible emotion as the verdicts were read aloud.

Following the announcement, Stewart ordered Stiff, 46, remanded to jail to await sentencing, which is scheduled in 35th Circuit Court for 9 a.m. July 19, and ordered Stiff to provide a DNA sample.

Defense attorney Brian Prain requested his client be allowed to remain out on bail until sentencing, but Stewart denied the request.

Police accused Stiff of exchanging text messages in May 2018 with a person over the internet whom Stiff believed was a boy. Michigan State Police Det./Trooper Evan Zapolski testified he had assumed the role of “Jake,” and had exchanged messages with Stiff over a period of 11 days. Stiff allegedly sent “Jake” a shirtless photo and pictures of his genitals.

Stiff was charged in February 2019 following an investigation by a MSP computer crimes unit. He was arraigned Feb. 22 by 66th District Court Judg e Ward Clarkson; he pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said information such as emails, IP addresses and other records tied Stiff to the crime. Prain, though, suggested Stiff’s girlfriend may have sent the messages instead of his client.

It took jurors just less than four hours to reach a verdict after the prosecution and defense rested their cases Wednesday after lunch.

Proceedings Wednesday morning included Prain’s cross-examination of Zapolski, who led the investigation and was the only witness to testify in the trial.

Prain questioned Zapolski for several hours, focusing on discrepancies in the IP addresses of two phones Stiff owned and whether Stiff’s ex-girlfriend could have sent inappropriate messages to a 14-year-old boy, “Jake,” whom Zapolski assumed the identity of. Prain pointed out that the messages had been sent only on weekdays when Stiff was working.

In his closing statement to the jury, Prain said there was enough reasonable doubt in the case to acquit.

“There was zero investigation of the girlfriend… The prosecution has not met its burden of proof. There is reasonable doubt. There are more questions than answers here.”

Assistant prosecutor Scott Koerner, however reminded the jury Zapolski was certified as an expert by the court and has investigated such types of cases in the past. He added Stiff had admitted to sending the messages during an interview with Zapolski.

“These are hypotheticals and possibilities,” Koerner said of Prain’s suggestions. “Let’s stick to what we know… You heard (Stiff) admit it. Don’t let the defense muddy the waters.”

Following closing arguments, Stewart read the jury instructions and sent them to the jury room to deliberate at about 2:45 p.m. While deliberating, the jury asked to hear the recording of Stiff’s interview with Zapolski and see the photos that were sent to the supposed child.

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