Trial starts for Catholic priest, ex-EWTN host accused of abusing his son
By Greg Garrison
May 24, 2016
|David Stone, 55, formerly known as Father Frances Mary Stone, was host of the TV program "Life on the Rock" on Eternal Word Television Network. He fathered a child born in 2008. The mother was fired from EWTN and Stone was put on long-term leave of absence, according to Jefferson County court documents.|
A trial began Monday for David Lawrence Stone, a Catholic priest and former EWTN TV host who was arrested in 2013 and charged with sexual abuse of a minor under 12.
"I'm innocent," Stone told AL.com after jury selection began for his trial in Jefferson County Circuit Court. "I'm going to fight this thing all the way."
The minor he is charged with sexually abusing is his own son, now seven years old. Stone has been embroiled in a custody battle. "I'm going for my son," he said.
Stone, 55, formerly known as Father Frances Mary Stone, was host of the TV program "Life on the Rock" on Eternal Word Television Network.
In court filings, Stone's attorneys have argued that the allegation of child abuse is false. Stone has been in a lengthy custody battle with Christina Presnell, the mother of his child, according to Jefferson County Court records.
Scott Morro, an attorney for Presnell, said the relationship between Stone and Presnell started when she was working for EWTN. Presnell worked as a human resource coordinator for EWTN, according to court documents. She met Stone in 1998, went to confession with him as her priest and considered him her spiritual adviser, then began a sexual relationship with him in 2001. They kept the relationship secret, but were discovered when she became pregnant. EWTN fired Presnell in 2008 and Stone was put on a long-term leave of absence, court records show.
Stone no longer is a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, the order of priests founded in 1987 by Mother Angelica, who also founded EWTN. Stone no longer lives at the Annunciation Friary in Irondale.
The Catholic Diocese of Birmingham investigated the case and it's now being played out in the judicial system, in both criminal and civil cases in Jefferson County.
"We have investigated, and done everything we're required to do," said Catholic Bishop Robert J. Baker. "He is out of the ministry. Everything is pending the outcome of the trials. My understanding is he is saying he is falsely accused. Any of these situations are difficult."
Presnell, 48, was widowed in 1999 after a 13-year marriage and had two daughters and a son with her husband. She also had another son by another father while separated from her husband, then had Stone's son, who was born in 2008, according to court documents.
According to court documents, Stone had visitation with his son starting in 2010. In May 2011, Presnell said that the boy told her that his father put his finger in the boy's anus, causing him to defecate on the bed. Stone denies that story and says she made it up. She filed a police report. Stone was arrested by Irondale Police on Oct. 9, 2013 and released on $150,000 bond.
Stone does not currently have visitation privileges with his son as a condition of the bond, court records show. He has been fighting for visitation privileges and custody in civil court in Jefferson County.
"This is just an attempt to get money from the church," Stone said Monday as he left court.
Stone's attorneys asked for a delay in the trial because a key witness for the defense, the lead investigator for the Department of Human Resources, gave birth by C-section recently and is unable to attend the trial. Judge Clyde Jones declined the request for a delay on Monday, saying there's no guarantee other witnesses would be available at a future date. Jury selection continues today.