Apparently it was just an act after all.
On Sept. 26, 2006, when William Archer Stulb shuffled across the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center stage in leg-irons and handcuffs, many of the teens in the audience giggled and smirked.
They thought the jail uniform and restraints were just props, part of the show for Magistrate Wade Padgett's Teenage Years 101 educational program.
Instead, they found out Stulb, then 21, was a real prisoner. He was serving a one-year sentence for statutory rape of a 14-year-old when he was barely 18.
Stulb shuffled onto that stage to tell the teens to take responsibility for their actions, to make sure they wouldn't be "the next one in an orange jump suit."
His mother and sister were in the audience, and I approached them afterward to tell them I was proud of Stulb for speaking as part of his journey toward personal redemption.
I prefaced my comments to them by acknowledging that they had every reason to hate my guts. I had been hard on Judge Duncan Wheale for giving Stulb a lenient sentence, and hard on Stulb for his history of youthful indiscretions.
In fact, a close friend of their family described my comments as "careless" and "hurtful," and defended Wheale as "wise" for coming down easy on Stulb. Wheale later tried to toughen Stulb's sentence in the original case, but that was overturned on appeal.
Stulb and Wheale were back in court a few weeks ago. Georgia's recently rewritten law forced Stulb to register as a sex offender, even though his original sentence didn't require it.
Stulb had significant support from family and friends in pleading with Wheale to vacate that sentence and re-sentence him as a first offender. Wheale did so, which meant that as of June 4, Stulb was free - no probation, no record, no sex-offender registration.
So he celebrated June 22 by molesting an 11-year-old girl.
That's what the authorities in Glynn County say. In the warrant for Stulb's arrest, they put it this way: "Accused did commit an immoral and indecent act to a child under the age of 16 with intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of the child or the person, to wit, that Stulb, William Archer, did rub the vagina area of (the victim) age 11 years."
Stulb now is being held without bond in the Glynn County Detention Center in Brunswick, Ga., not far from the Sea Island resort where the incident is alleged to have occurred.
Stulb is, of course, innocent until proven guilty. And he's already proven capable, with the help of his family, supportive friends and an attorney, of successfully navigating through the court system.
What he isn't entitled to from the public, though, is the benefit of the doubt.
You know, back when Wheale went light on Stulb and I came down hard on Wheale, I was called "careless" and "hurtful" as a result. So I spent plenty of time soul-searching.
That was nothing new. I constantly examine my own words. Having a broad forum doesn't make me smarter than anyone else; it just makes me louder. But with that volume comes responsibility. I try to be careful so that if words are likely to hurt, the pain is directed appropriately.
There's plenty of pain to go around with this case. For Stulb, who appears to have flushed his extraordinary second chance and limitless potential down the toilet, it's all self-inflicted. For his alleged victim and her family, it's unimaginable. For Stulb's family and loyal friends who were so vigorous in his defense, it must be devastating. For Wheale, it's sickening betrayal.
It's "I told you so." And I sure do hate it for all of the above.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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