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Jury awards ex-wife $110,000 in civil suit

A St. Croix County jury has awarded $110,000 to a woman who was allegedly abused and terrorized by her husband over the course of several years.

Following a four-day trial, a 12-person jury found that Frank E. Stone had assaulted, battered and inflicted emotional distress on his wife, Roxann M. Stone, on or after June 29, 2003, and that he had acted maliciously toward her or with intentional disregard for her rights.

Jurors awarded her $70,000 for past pain and suffering, $30,000 for future pain and suffering and $10,000 in punitive damages.

"His conduct toward his spouse was reprehensible and it's contrary to law. He had no more right to batter or abuse his spouse than he does some patron in a tavern or a football stadium," said Roxann Stone's attorney, James Bartholomew.

"I think that, in the full range of things, this is a case that should have been settled long ago," said Frank Stone's attorney, Charles Harris. "I don't think the actual verdict is going to accomplish anything for either side."

No criminal charges were ever filed against Frank Stone. Roxann never even called the police, said Harris.

In September 2004 after she filed for divorce, Roxann did get domestic abuse and child abuse restraining orders against her husband.

Harris has filed motions after verdict claiming some of the testimony given at trial shouldn't have been allowed and alleging there was no basis for part of the award.

"There was absolutely no testimony saying any pain and suffering she's having would be continuing in the future," he said.

A hearing on those motions is set for June 1.

In the original complaint, Roxann claimed that in the summer of 2004 her husband psychologically tortured, terrorized and emotionally harmed her, at one point brandishing a loaded handgun and threatening to kill her and their son or to kill himself with the child watching.

The court file includes 38 pages of Roxann's journal entries documenting Frank Stone's alleged abuse from December 2001 through September 2004.

"This was a course of conduct that occurred over a period of time," said Bartholomew.

The Stones were married in 1991. She filed for divorce in September 2004 and filed the civil lawsuit in June 2005.

In documents filed with the court, Frank denied that he had sexually or physically assaulted his wife, that he had threatened her with physical harm or that he had pointed a gun at her.

Although the abuse began before 2003, the statute of limitations allowed Roxann Stone to sue only for damages that occurred within two years of filing the civil claim, said Bartholomew.

While the woman suffered no broken bones or other physical injuries that required medical attention, "There was a medical impact on her in terms of pain, suffering and emotional trauma," he said.

"I think that this is somewhat rare, but it was a necessary step to be taken," said Bartholomew of the suit. "The fact that they were married doesn't give him a legal excuse, a privilege."

Frank's lawyer maintained that some of the conduct wasn't illegal, and testimony about those incidents shouldn't have been allowed during the trial.

While it might have been alright to target practice in his yard, when Frank purposely shot in her direction, it was a threat against Roxann, said Bartholomew.

"How else can you read that?" he asked.

Bartholomew said the abuse included battering, property damage and threats, including killing the woman's tropical fish by dumping household cleaner in the tank and then suggesting to Roxann that she might be next.

"I think all 12 of the jurors saw the conduct for what it was -- it was abuse and it's illegal," said Bartholomew.

He said excerpts from Roxann's journal give "little glimpses" over time of her husband's ability and willingness to carry out his threats.

"This took a great deal of courage on her part," said Bartholomew of his client's lawsuit.