LOCAL NEWS

Davis County man sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for sexually abusing preteen girls

Nov 7, 2022, 8:49 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 5:41 pm
Phillip Brandon Stokes, 41, was sentenced Monday to two concurrent terms of 25 years to life in the...
Phillip Brandon Stokes, 41, was sentenced Monday to two concurrent terms of 25 years to life in the Utah State Prison for rape of a child and sodomy on a child, both first-degree felonies. The sentences will run concurrently, the judge said. (Steve Griffin/Deseret News)
(Steve Griffin/Deseret News)

FARMINGTON, Utah — There’s no way to express “the pain and horror” of knowing a child needs a rape examination, the mother of a young girl told a 2nd District courtroom on Monday.

The woman, whose daughter is one of three known girls assaulted by Phillip Brandon Stokes, tearfully recounted how her family has been forever changed by Stokes’ actions.

“A child’s innocence is sacred, and you robbed (our daughter) of hers. She can never have that back,” the mother said. “We hope you will receive the maximum sentence … but even if you don’t, we know that God is waiting for you.”

She added that her daughter’s bravery in speaking up has saved other girls.

“Her voice was all she had to defend herself, and you did not listen to her and you gratified your perversion with our child,” she told Stokes in court. “But in the end, her voice is what has put you where you are today and where we hope you will remain for the rest of your sorry life. (Her) voice is her superpower and is stronger than anything you have ever done or ever will do.”

The woman’s comments came just before Judge Michael Edwards sentenced Stokes to two terms of 25 years to life in the Utah State Prison for rape of a child and sodomy on a child, both first-degree felonies. The judge also ordered that Stokes serve 364 days in the Davis County Jail for lewdness involving a child, a class A misdemeanor.

The sentences will run concurrently. Edwards said he understands that “reasonable minds can differ” about the appropriateness of concurrent sentences in this case, but he believes that the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole will have the best information about who Stokes has become after he serves the 25-year minimum.

Edwards also ordered a fine of $10,000 for each of the felony charges and a fine of $2,500 for the misdemeanor but suspended them because, he said, fines aren’t meaningful in a sentence of such length and because no amount of money can undo the damage. However, he ordered that Stokes pay $1,210 in restitution for the victims’ therapy fees.

Phillip Stokes also faces charges in Utah’s federal court, consisting of a count of sexual exploitation of children and a count of coercion or enticement, according to federal court records. Prosecutor Mathew Janzen said his understanding is that when Stokes is sentenced for the federal case in January, that sentence could run concurrently with his state sentence.

The charges

Stokes initially faced a total of 14 state charges, including five counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and four counts of dealing in materials harmful to a minor; 11 of those charges were eventually dropped in a plea deal, court records show.

The Davis County Sheriff’s Office started investigating the case in July 2021 after receiving a report of a 40-year-old man who was communicating with an 11-year-old girl on TikTok.

“The report stated that the online conversations were sexual in nature and indicated that the suspect met the victim in person and sexually abused the victim,” an affidavit states.

Investigators traced the social media account back to Stokes and learned that after contacting the girl he convinced her to communicate with him on a texting app, where Stokes quickly turned the conversation sexual, according to the affidavit. Stokes allegedly told the girl he was 17.

Detectives located the 11-year-old girl who told them that she met up with Stokes at a park in Davis County where he forcibly touched her and made her perform sexual acts despite the girl telling him to stop “20 times,” the affidavit says.

Agents from the sheriff’s office and the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force served a search warrant at Stokes’ residence.

“He admitted to meeting the victim at least two times in a park in Davis County,” the affidavit states. “Stokes admitted that he is a stranger to the victim and that he began communication with the victim with the intent to commit the crimes described (in the affidavit).”

When Stokes was arrested, officers discovered that he had deleted his social media accounts and destroyed his cellphone when he learned the 11-year-old girl had contacted police.

After he was arrested, “Stokes told officers that during the past few years, he has chatted with other children on various social media platforms and has received multiple nude photographs from various children he has chatted with,” according to the charges.

Stokes also told police that he “groomed and sexually abused” a second girl, the court documents say. Police say that girl was under the age of 10 when the abuse started in 2018.

A third victim was mentioned in court on Monday.

The sentencing

During his sentencing, Stokes said his actions were “extremely horrible” and he has “the most intense regret.”

He’s been working hard to overcome his addiction while incarcerated, he said, and has made “unprecedented changes.”

Defense attorney Gregory Skordas said Stokes is “a very good” husband and father who did an “inexcusably horrible thing.”

“He’s come around about as far as you can imagine and he has accepted responsibility as much as I’ve ever seen,” Skordas said.

He also said this is “a tragic case all around” and that the system will have its pound of flesh “for a very, very long time.”

“(Stokes) is really a very fine man who went down a rabbit hole that a lot of us can never understand,” Skordas said.

But Janzen said there are clearly “significant aggravating factors,” including the number of victims and how quickly Stokes progressed from sexual messages to full-on assault.

“Certainly there was this ongoing pattern of sexual activity targeting children under the age of 13, and (that) would justify … a consecutive sentence,” he said.

Edwards said these are “heart-wrenching” matters and there are no words to accurately state the harm done and the innocence lost. He also considered that Stokes has taken advantage of treatment options in jail and has no prior criminal history, he said.

“I wish the victims and their families only the best,” he said, particularly the young lives that have been “so much hurt by the actions of the defendant.”

Stokes added during his statement that he hopes to help others break the cycle of abuse.

“My sweet wife is getting her doctorate in psychology so that she and I can work together to maybe help people,” Stokes said.

Court records show Natalie Van Natter Stokes was divorced from Phillip Stokes in August 2021.

Additionally, Natalie Stokes is currently facing a count of unauthorized collecting, sharing or use of private student data, a class A misdemeanor, according to court records.

During the investigation, Phillip Stokes told police that he came to know one of the victims because Natalie Stokes was the girl’s counselor at an elementary school, according to charging documents in Natalie Stokes’ case.

He also told police that, prior to the assaults, he and Natalie Stokes were walking in the neighborhood when Natalie Stokes pointed to the girl and “personally identified her as the girl she had been working with as a school psychologist,” charging documents state.

Officers later asked Natalie Stokes if she had mentioned the girl’s name to Phillip Stokes, and she then told police, “I have used (the girl’s) name. So he knows,” the charges state.

Natalie Stokes’ case is still pending. Her next court appearance, a pre-trial conference, is scheduled for Jan. 10.

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Davis County man sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for sexually abusing preteen girls