Former Grand Forks airman guilty of repeatedly sexually abusing child

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

After hours of deliberation, jurors on Friday declared a former Air Force airman from Grand Forks guilty of repeatedly sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl.

Christian Dion Tolbert, 34, also sent the girl sexual messages on Facebook when she was 17.

During the trial, jurors watched Tolbert admit to investigators that he had sex with the 13-year-old girl several times in 2012 and 2013. But he told a different story when he took the stand Wednesday, when he owned up to kissing, cuddling and inappropriately hugging the child, yet denied having sex with her. He said he lied to police because he was “scared as hell.”

Grand Forks County Assistant State’s Attorney Andrew Eyre said Tolbert was only able to elaborate and add more detail to his admissions during the interview because it was the truth. He pointed out a portion of the interview when detectives asked Tolbert, “Is that what you want me to hear or is that the truth?”

He told them he was telling the truth – he did have sex with the girl several times.


Tolbert changed his story nine times during the interview. “It gets worse and worse when he’s confronted with the facts,” Eyre said.

Defense attorney Steven Fischer said the detectives used an abrasive interview technique and “highly incentivized statements” to coax Tolbert into a false confession. Detectives told Tolbert things would be easier for him if he cooperated and that if he denied allegations they would only have the victim’s account to consider when determining charges.

Tolbert admitted to jurors that he was physically attracted to the girl when she was 13 and still when she was 17. He said that attraction is what led him to reach out to her via a fake Facebook account in December of 2017. After he revealed his true identity, the messages became sexual and many were written in past tense and described detailed sexual encounters.

Tolbert told the jurors he knew it was wrong for him, as a 32-year-old, to have these conversations with a 17-year-old girl, but insisted that the messages did not depict reality but fantasy scenarios.

Eyre rebuked the notion. He said that a 12- to 13-year-old girl being sexually exploited by a 26-year-old man is trauma, abuse and exploitation – not fantasy.

“This isn’t a fantasy. This is a nightmare,” he said.

Jurors spent around 13 hours deliberating, breaking Thursday night to continue the discussion Friday morning. They returned a verdict that said Tolbert was guilty for continuous sexual abuse of a child and for luring a minor. The sexual abuse charge holds a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

Tolbert is being held in jail without bond until he is scheduled for sentencing in January.

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.
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