Aiken County man pleads guilty to sexually assaulting a horse and distributing child pornography | Local crime and police news

An Aiken County man pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a coveted horse and possession of child pornography on Wednesday afternoon and will spend three years in prison.

Damian Alexander Connor, 33, pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor in connection with a 2019 investigation and to one count of sodomy in connection with the sexual assault of a horse under the late guard dressage trainer Martijn Stuurman and breeder Abigail Ronco.

Judge Courtney Clyburn Pope sentenced Connor to five years in the South Carolina Department of Corrections, which will be suspended to a three-year active sentence, followed by four years probation, for the sodomy charge .






Damian Alexander Connor (Photo courtesy of Aiken County Detention Center)



Connor was sentenced to eight years in the South Carolina Department of Corrections for sexual exploitation on a minor second-degree charge. This sentence will also be accompanied by a reprieve of an active sentence of three years and will be followed by a period of probation of four years.

Both sentences will be executed simultaneously. Connor will receive credit for four days of incarceration before trial. As part of both offenses, Connor must register with the South Carolina Sex Offender Registry.






connor and lawyer

Damian Connor, left, listens to his lawyer’s advice during Wednesday’s hearing. (Alexandra Koch/staff)



While on probation, Connor will be subject to random drug and alcohol testing and must not have any contact with the victim in the sodomy case. He will also have to continue to receive mental health counseling once he is on probation.

How the investigation started

The South Carolina attorney general’s office said the case stemmed from a private investigation involving a digital file-sharing network that began September 1, 2019.

During the investigation, an IP address used to upload child sex abuse files was traced to Aiken County and a search warrant was produced for Connor’s residence, the attorney general says. Deputy Quentin Gaddy.






gaddy

Assistant Attorney General Quentin Gaddy speaks during Wednesday’s hearing. (Alexandra Koch/staff)



During the execution of this warrant, a number of electronic devices containing child pornography were seized. One of the devices contained a number of videos illustrating [a man and woman sexually assaulting a horse]“, assistant attorney David Miller said during Wednesday’s hearing.

Although no faces appeared in the videos, Ronco told police the man in the videos was Connor and admitted that she was in the video with Connor. Connor confessed to everything Ronco told police, Miller said.






david miller

Assistant Attorney David Miller speaks during Wednesday’s hearing. (Alexandra Koch/staff)



“He said there were two incidents with the horse in question and that his wife, Abigail, consented to the incidents,” Miller said. “[Connor] said they were very drunk and laughing about having sex with the horse and then it happened. The second incident he described as probably more planned.

Owner Urges Aiken Horse Owners to Be Vigilant Following Reported Sexual Assault on Horseback

Several horses in Stuurman’s care were assaulted in May 2019, June 2019 and September 2019, according to arrest warrants obtained from the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.

On May 19, 2020, the South Carolina Attorney General’s office charged Connor with 10 counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor; police said Connor distributed videos of minors, ages 8 to 14, engaging in sexual activity or appearing in a state of sexually explicit nudity, according to arrest warrants.

Connor was also charged with three counts of sodomy (rape of an animal) and Ronco was charged with two counts of buggery in connection with the assault on Stuurman’s horses, according to the warrants.

Conviction

Ahead of sentencing on Wednesday, Connor’s defense attorney told Judge Courtney Clyburn Pope that Connor’s military service and upbringing speak to his character.

Connor served in the Marines between 2009 and 2014 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2015 before being honorably discharged. Connor also recently completed two semesters at Aiken Technical College while on bail for sodomy and child pornography charges and attends a sex offender treatment group.






connor leaving the courtroom

Damian Connor leaves the courtroom after pleading guilty during Wednesday’s hearing. (Alexandra Koch/staff)



“First, I must apologize for the betrayal and dishonor my actions have had on the people I hurt, my family and myself,” Connor said during Wednesday’s hearing. “I now understand that my actions were selfish and I take full responsibility. I “I understood that my actions do not only affect me. I struggled as a husband, as a father and as a man. With the support and perspective I have now, I continue to change that…I’ll continue to improve after this, and I’ll be that best father and husband to my family.

The defense asked the judge for the minimum sentence so Connor could continue treatment.

Ronco was not present at her husband’s hearing as his charges are still pending.

Horse owners speak out

Diana Swift and her husband, Christopher L. Sherman, own the purebred Lipizzaner stallion at the center of the sodomy case.

The couple submitted a written statement to the court, explaining their experience and pleading with the court for the maximum sentence.

Swift, who has been breeding Lipizzaners since 1983, was getting out of breeding when she was approached by Ronco and her ex-boyfriend, Stuurman, who were hoping to start a stud farm with established breeding horses.

Lipizzaners are extremely rare, with only about two dozen public breeding stallions in the United States, one of which was owned by Swift.

In August 2017, Swift and her husband entered into a contract with Ronco and Stuurman under which they received a colt and a filly in exchange for Stuurman training the stallion.

Ronco and Stuurman also received a mare that was to be bred to the stallion twice, and then could be bred to any other stallion or breed, under a verbal agreement.

Aiken man and woman charged with sexually assaulting a horse

When Swift was told Ronco was charged in 2020 with sodomizing her stud, she said she spoke on the phone with Stuurman who told her Ronco was now married to Connor.

“I understand there are videos showing Abigail Ronco having sex with my stud…” Swift said in the statement. “My interactions with Abigail throughout our partnership before and after the contract and the fact that I entrusted my horses to her and to Martjin were based on her level of professionalism and her experience as a breeder and Martijn’s reputation in as a horse trainer.”

After Swift was informed that her stallion had been mistreated, she took the horse back to her farm in California.

“I’ve slowly made progress in getting him back to his old self, he’s still not quite back to ‘normal’ within a year of positive and proper treatment,” she said.

She added that from a financial point of view, the horse lost almost all its value as a breeding stallion because it could become dangerous in a breeding situation.

At the end of her written statement, she asked the judge to give Connor the maximum sentence, to be served consecutively to any other crimes for which he might be convicted. She also asked Connor to register as a sex offender.

Stuurman murdered in 2021

Stuurman was found murdered in his Chesnee home on June 13, 2021.

Stuurman engaged in a custody battle with Ronco and Connor following the sodomy and child pornography charges in 2020 and was facing legal charges at the time of his murder, according to court records obtained by the Aiken. Standard.

Following the child pornography charges against Connor, Stuurman filed a motion for temporary sole custody of the minor in Aiken County Family Court on Sept. 29, 2020, according to court records.

Records reveal family turmoil before murder of horse trainer linked to Aiken

In his request, Stuurman also asked the court to prohibit Connor “from being in the vicinity of the minor at any time in light of the child pornography charges filed and pending against him”, and asked the court to “withhold [Ronco and Connor] to threaten, harass, or inconvenience the plaintiff in any way, directly or indirectly, during the pendency of this action,” according to court records.

Stuurman also asked the court for a permanent restraining order against Connor on Sept. 29, 2020, according to court records.

Weeks before Stuurman’s murder, a hearing was held in the custody case, according to court records. The judge ruled that Connor, “shall be and is hereby restricted, enjoined and prohibited from having any contact whatsoever, directly or indirectly, with the minor.”

On August 30, 2021, after Stuurman’s death, the court ordered that the case not be dismissed and that custody and visitation remain as previously ordered, according to emergency hearing records; however, shortly thereafter the case was dismissed due to Stuurman’s death.

After nearly four months of investigation in Chesnee and no findings, the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office distributed a press release stating “there are one or more potential persons of interest in the Aiken, SC area “, September 16, 2021.

No suspect “can [be] appointed” at that time, Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Kevin Bobo said in a phone call with the Aiken Standard on Sept. 21, 2021.

A $25,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person or persons responsible for Stuurman’s death, according to the statement.

To date, there have still been no arrests in this case.

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