Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 17, 2014

Man guilty of sexually assaulting child

BY MATT TROUTMAN
mtroutman@record-eagle.com

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A Traverse City man’s trial on accusations he sexually assaulted a 6-year-old girl ended with his conviction.

A 13th Circuit Court jury on Thursday spent three hours to find Nathon James Elzer, 32, of Grand Traverse County, guilty of all but one of the five counts of criminal sexual conduct he faced. Elzer’s charges carry a mandatory sentence of at least 25 years. A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.

The victim’s grandmother Mary Coyne had two words after the jury weighed in:

“Relieved, justified.”

The case began on Aug. 12 when the victim, whose mother dated Elzer, told her babysitter about Elzer’s sexual abuse. The babysitter informed the victim’s mother, who sparked a Grand Traverse County sheriff’s department investigation that ultimately led to Elzer being charged with multiple sex crimes.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney said “justice was done” after a difficult trial that included graphic testimony from the child victim and three other witnesses, all adults, who recounted sexual abuse they suffered from Elzer when they were children.

“It’s an important case when a 6-year-old, or any child, is sexually abused,” he said. “The sad is part is the other victims who testified. Two in particular, their stories are horrific and they were both courageous to come in and testify.”

Elzer’s attorney Craig Elhart also said the case was “difficult.”

“No one is ever happy at the end of a case like this in any fashion,” Elhart said.

Cooney argued the victim’s story included details “too bizarre” for a child her age to fabricate or even know about. He said all the witnesses had only one motive to testify against Elzer: “Because he did it.”

Elhart argued in the trial that children don’t always lie, but do repeat what adults tell them. He noted the victim’s account of sexual acts performed by Elzer became more specific after two breaks in testimony.

Cooney told the jury the additional witnesses provided evidence for Elzer’s “propensity” toward sexually abusing children, but Elhart said their testimony amounted to “smoke and mirrors” to distract jurors from a weak case.

In the end, the jury declared Elzer guilty on one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Elzer was found not guilty on one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Coyne said her concerns after the verdict turned toward her granddaughter and how Elzer’s “horrific” and “demented” acts would affect her.

“As a victim myself from childhood, I know what horrors she’ll have to live with,” Coyne said.