Defendant takes stand in sex-crime trial

092519.N.GFH.Christian Dion Tolbert
Christian Dion Tolbert

Jurors watched a recorded police interview with a former Air Force man accused of repeatedly sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl during the second day of his trial on Wednesday, Sept. 25. They also heard him admit he was physically attracted to the teen as he testified and told his side of the story.

Jurors are expected to decide Thursday if 32-year-old Christian Dion Tolbert is guilty on felony charges of continuous sexual abuse of a child and luring a minor electronically. He faces life in prison without parole if he’s convicted for sexual abuse.

Investigators said the girl reported in 2017 that Tolbert sexually abused her numerous times during 2012 and 2013, when she was between 12 and 13 years old. He reached out to her in December 2017 through a fake Facebook page and sent her sexually explicit messages describing the previous sexual encounters in detail. Tolbert admitted he was 32 when he knowingly messaged the then 17 year old.

A detective from the Grand Forks Police Department testified that he encouraged the teen to respond to Tolbert through Facebook. The messages became crucial evidence in the case.

Prosecutors showed a two-and-a-half hour video interview from 2017 when Tolbert was interviewed by detectives at a police station in Waukegan, Ill. Tolbert moved to Illinois in 2014 after he left the military and Grand Forks Air Force base. He served as a service technician for several years in Grand Forks and was deployed to Iraq for several months during the years in question.


In the interview, Tolbert initially denies allegations he sexually assaulted the girl but, by the end, admits they had sex several times and he knew it was inappropriate because she was 13.

Tolbert told detectives he felt forced into the sexual acts because he was afraid of one of the teen’s family members -- who he said also engaged in the abuse.

During his testimony on Wednesday, Tolbert denied he had sex with the child, though he did admit to inappropriately kissing, hugging and cuddling her. He said he felt pressured by police to admit to the sexual abuse.

“I told them what they wanted to hear,” he said.

Tolbert admitted to making a fake Facebook page that claimed he was an 18-year-old boy to contact the girl when she was 17 because “there was still a slight attraction there, so I knew what I was doing was wrong.” He was 32 at the time and admitted he was attracted to the girl when she was 13 and still at 17.

Tolbert said the messages were fantasy scenarios created while he sexted with the teen. Grand Forks County Assistant State’s Attorney Andrew Eyre questioned why a majority of the messages were written in past tense.

“You lied about your identity, your age, you lied to police, but now you expect the jury to believe you?” Eyre asked.

Closing statements will take place Thursday morning before the jury is handed the case for deliberation.

Tess covers crime and courts for the Grand Forks Herald. She previously worked for the Associated Press, Lincoln Journal Star, Omaha World-Herald and The Voice News. Reach her at (701) 780-1267, or on Twitter @ByTessWilliams.
What To Read Next
Get Local