Former Catholic priest, acquitted of abuse, granted custody of son
By Greg Garrison
January 22, 2018
|Former EWTN priest and TV personality David Stone, shown during a visit with his son before the allegations, was found not guilty of child sexual abuse in 2016 and has been granted custody of his 9-year-old son.|
A former EWTN priest and TV personality found not guilty of child sexual abuse in 2016 has been granted custody of his 9-year-old son.
David Stone, 57, hosted a talk show for youth from 2001-2007 on EWTN. While working at EWTN he fathered a child with an EWTN employee, Christina Presnell. The child was born in 2008.
Stone, formerly known as Father Francis Mary Stone when he hosted the TV show "Life on the Rock," was suspended from his religious order and placed on long-term leave of absence at EWTN after it became known he had fathered the child. Presnell was fired from EWTN.
After the child spent a weekend visitation with Stone in 2012, the child complained to his mother that his father hurt him, according to testimony by Presnell. Presnell then refused to allow the next scheduled visitation.
Stone was arrested in 2013 and charged with sexual abuse of a minor under 12. Stone testified and his attorneys argued that false allegations were being used to gain advantage in a custody dispute between Stone and Presnell.
In a custody ruling issued Monday, Jefferson County Judge Carnella Greene Norman awarded custody to Stone, effective within two weeks after the Jan. 22 order.
"It's important to see that another judge ruled in his favor," said Amber Ladner, one of Stone's attorneys.
"It's not just a criminal jury that didn't believe the false allegations, but also the family court judge that has had the case for the last six years," Ladner said. "Now, Dave has been vindicated in two courts."
Honora Gathings, attorney for Presnell, said she had not yet discussed the ruling with her client and declined comment.
Stone will be required to keep his son in his current school until the end of the school year, then will be allowed to move to Montana with his son, according to the ruling. Presnell will be allowed visitation.
"We're happy with the result," said Chip Bradford, also an attorney for Stone. "We think it's the right result."
Ladner and Bradford said Stone plans to move in with his sister and her husband in Montana. They are retired medical professionals who have several grandchildren about the same age as Stone's son.
"He's got cousins there his age," Ladner said. "He'll be around family."
Judge Norman presided over a four-week custody trial last year that ended on Oct. 31, 2017, and considered evidence that was not allowed in the criminal trial that acquitted Stone.
"There was a lot allowed in this trial that wasn't allowed in the criminal trial," Ladner said. "She had a lot more evidence."
Although Stone has an accounting degree, seminary training and experience as a national TV host, he's had to work in landscaping for a lawn company, because it has been hard for him to get work after the allegations of abuse even though he was acquitted by a jury, Ladner said.
Stone's mother and brother live in Florida and he has another sister in Texas, and the family has been supportive of him as he has worked to regain custody and move to Montana, Ladner said.
"Dave wanted to stay here so he could be close to his son," Ladner said.
"He's found a place that he feels will be safe for him and his son, a place where he has family," she said. "He's checked out the schools there (in Montana). It's a very good stable environment. They'll get a new start."