Jonathon Folk on Wednesday tearily pleaded with the jury to see him as the victim of a vicious judicial system.
He was standing trial for the third time for the same crime and he fought hard for sympathy.
“It is a horror to be charged with a crime and be innocent,” the 48-year-old said. “If I protest too much, I will be seen as guilty. If I get angry, I will be seen as guilty. If I forget a fact ... I will be seen as guilty.”
But when a jury handed down a unanimous verdict of guilty three hours later, Folk turned to his sister, Robin Cox. Facing a 25-year sentence, he flashed a smile and gave her a wink.
Minutes after the verdict, Folk was already talking to his standby council about the inevitable third appeal.
Wednesday’s drama represented the latest twist in a courtroom battle unlike any seen in recent memory in eastern Idaho. The case has captivated eastern Idaho’s legal community. Reaching trial for a third time, the judge and lawyers walked gingerly to ensure Folk wouldn’t get a fourth shot at appeal. The victim’s mother called it a travesty, a cruel man just trying to continue hurting her boy.
“I feel that my son is being harassed,” she said. “Having him on the stand for that long, where he is his own attorney, that’s what gets me. He’s been doing this the whole time.”
A DARK CHRISTMAS NIGHT
In 2007, Folk was living in Boise at his friend Blaine Blair’s house. The two are related through marriage. Both came to Idaho Falls about five days before Christmas — Folk to see his sister and Blair to see his aunt. On the evening of Christmas Day, Folk came to pick Blair up at a relative’s house.
Folk was also related to the people in the house, though distantly, and he hardly knew the occupants. However, Blair hadn’t eaten his turkey dinner, so Folk stuck around. At one point, Folk followed a 5-year-old boy into his bedroom. What happened next would leave wounds on all involved persisting to this day.
Folk claimed under oath that he took the boy to get dry socks after he came in from playing in the snow. Somewhere between five and 20 minutes after the two entered the room, the boy’s mother noticed he went missing.
As she walked into the room, she heard her son say, “Ew, that’s gross.” She walked in to see her son laying on his bed with his legs danging over the side. Folk was kneeling between her son’s legs with his hands on the boy’s hips. She ask what was going on, and both responded, “We’re just playing.”
Eight years later, Folk recalled the evening fondly.
“That was the first time I met (the victim)…” Folk told the jury in his opening statement Monday. “(The victim) instantly liked me. You could tell he just idolized me.”
Folk went on to explain that it’s easy to relate to children; you just have to listen and talk with them. He said the victim followed him all around the house, asking him to pick him up and swing him around. That doesn’t sound like the behavior of a recently abused child, he argued.
Blair, also a convicted sex offender, testified in court Wednesday — as he has previously — that Folk had told him he did not intend to stop abusing children.
A TWISTED LEGAL BATTLE
Folk was arrested 15 days after the Christmas incident. His first guilty verdict came in 2009. On Feb. 26, 2009, he was sentenced to life in prison. The next month, he filed an appeal.
Upon appeal in 2009, lawyers argued the defense should have been able to cross-examine the witness in person, rather than through a live video feed. They won, setting up the second trial.
On July 26, 2011, Folk filed a motion to represent himself in his retrial. He filed six other motions that day. Since then, he has filed 104 more motions. Motions ranged from redundant, such as motion to a speedy trial or motion to wear street clothes in court, to practical matters such as a motion to have the court provide 10 case law files per week.
In 2012, Folk was again found guilty. Folk was again sentenced to life in prison. He appealed.
This time, appellate lawyers argued Folk’s two felony sex crime convictions in Illinois were too prejudicial for the jury to reach a fair verdict. Again, they won.
Going into the 2015 trial, the prosecution was somewhat handcuffed by the appeals. Bringing up prior bad acts to show a propensity to molest children was off the table, and any slip up could become the focus of a third appeal or a not-guilty verdict.
District Judge Gregory Moeller often reminded the state that appellate lawyers would be looking at the case meticulously.
The trial lasted 32 hours and often stopped so the judge and attorneys could discuss various curve balls. At the end, Moeller called it “gut wrenching.”
Folk’s legal understanding was apparent in hearings leading up to the 2015 trial. However, during the trial, jurors said he often struggled to remain coherent.
During the trail, Folk often brought up incriminating evidence that the state could then use against him.
“Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” Moeller said.
“There are things that Mr. Folk just told the jury that I wouldn’t let the state tell the jury,” Moeller said in court of Folk’s opening statement.
He sometimes uttered incoherent statements, and badgered the victim’s mother on cross-examination to the point she twice broke into tears.
“He doesn’t know what he is doing,” the mother said.
A TORTURED HISTORY
Folk’s introduction to sexual abuse started tragically early. Court records show he and his siblings were abused by their stepfather. Cox, his sister, said the abuse started when Folk was six months old and continued until he was seven.
“Our stepdad did a lot of things during the six-and-a-half years my mom was married to him,” said Cox.
Cox recalled multiple times where she caught Folk “messing around” with kids around the neighborhood when the two were growing up.
When he was 14, Folk moved on his own to Portland. Cox said he moved into a house with some older guys where sexual relationships developed.
Cox said sexual abuse has cast a dark shadow over Folk’s entire 48 years. He has admitted to her it’s an addiction he doesn’t have control over.
BECOMING AN ABUSER
Court records show a close relative told officers investigating the 2007 abuse about at time when 18-year-old Folk was watching him and his brother — both under the age of 5. The boys were taking a bath. After Folk took them out of the tub and dried them off, he brutally molested them.
Court records indicate that as Folk got older, he became an unabashed sex offender. Records show a total of five victims, but because Folk has always declined a judge’s order to participate in a psycho-sexual evaluation, it’s unknown how many children he has molested.
A DISTURBANCE BEHIND BARS
Despite being locked up since 2009, Folk has remained a presence in his latest victim’s life. The boy he abused in 2007 has now testified under oath five times, as has his mother. On Tuesday, Folk cross-examined the victim for four hours, often asking the same question over and over, and occasionally badgering the victim.
“I bit off all my fingernails,” jury forewoman Logan said.
While Logan and the other jurors endured the scene for four hours, the mother of the victim has been living it for eight years.
The mother said the night after the cross-examination, her son had nightmares similar to what he had in the weeks following the abuse. He’s now days away from his 13th birthday.
She said her son has been going to counseling since the abuse, and every time he seems to get better, Folk wins an appeal and her son has to face the man in court again. The cycle continues.
“The only reason why he is appealing this case is to watch my child grow up,” she said. “Seriously, that’s how I feel.”
Folk is now back in a cell awaiting an Oct. 19 sentencing. By the time he gets out, he will likely be a senior citizen who has spent the majority of his life behind bars.