By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — LOCKPORT — David J. Grover, charged with abducting and molesting a 5-year-old North Tonawanda girl last year, wept openly as he pleaded guilty Thursday in Niagara County Court.
Grover, 35, who was living on Niagara Falls Boulevard in the town at the time of his arrest, faces up to 25 years in prison after accepting a plea deal from prosecutors to a single count of kidnapping as a sexually motivated felony, though lawyers in the case indicated he wasn't likely to receive the full sentence.
In pleading guilty, Grover — who has a bizarre criminal sexual history — admitted he tricked the girl's mother, a friend he was visiting, into leaving her North Tonawanda home in the middle of the night to pick up a mutual friend who needed a ride. With the mother gone, Grover took the girl from her bed and brought her to a wooded area where he molested her.
"He had her for about five or six hours," Assistant District Attorney Holly Sloma said.
Grover brought the girl back to her father's home in the City of Tonawanda in the morning and was arrested after the victim confided in her mother, who called police later that day.
As part of the disposition, which Sloma and fellow prosecutor Robert Zucco worked on with the victim's family, Grover will serve 15 years in prison and have 25 years of post-release supervision. Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas will sentence Grover April 30.
"We as a family are just glad it's over," the victim's father said following Grover's guilty plea Thursday. The family is also glad that when Grover is released, he will be forced to register as a sex offender — a result of the felony being classified as sexually motivated.
The victim's great-grandmother said the sex offender registration was important to the family to make sure "he can't hurt anyone else."
Grover initially pleaded not guilty in August to three charges related to the incident: first-degree sexual assault, second-degree kidnapping and committing a sexually motivated felony.
But Thursday, with the help of his lawyer, David Douglas, he chose not to proceed with the trial scheduled to begin March 18.
Grover's decision came directly after prosecutors sought the right to inform a jury of Grover's two previous convictions, the latter of which bears some startling similarities to this case.
In 2004, he was convicted of an attempted burglary in the Town of Niagara, Zucco said.
"A male testified in that case that he saw the defendant totally nude in the apartment hallway, and that he was touching his penis with his hand," Zucco said.
Grover told police following the incident he needed money for cocaine and took off his pants because they were baggy and were making too much noise, startling the residents of the apartments.
Zucco also sought to introduce evidence from Grover's previous kidnapping conviction in 2007 when he took a different 4-year-old girl from her North Tonawanda home, prompting police to issue an Amber Alert. As with the present allegations, Grover was friends with the child's mother, giving him access to the child.
That young girl was returned to her home without any allegations of sexual abuse, police speculated because Grover almost immediately knew he was the subject of a manhunt. He again laid his actions to a cocaine addiction.
"This type of evidence could help the jury determine if his conduct — taking the girl away from her home — was done for sexual gratification," Zucco said.
In response to Zucco, Douglas argued that introducing the evidence from the past convictions would effectively end the trial before it even began.
"It would be like an atomic bomb being dropped upon us," Douglas said. "And once it's dropped, most jurors are going to think, 'that's the end of it, I don't have to think about this anymore.' "
Farkas wasn't buying.
"I'm inclined to embrace some of the people's argument, if not all of it," the judge said, though she didn't make her decision official Thursday.
Presenting some or all of that evidence at trial may have made Grover recalculate his chances with a jury, prosecutors said.
"It may have made him think twice about his plea," Zucco said.
Douglas requested a recess following the arguments to discuss the bargain with his client. Following the break, Grover re-entered the courtroom and quickly became emotional, crying throughout his plea.
He remains held without bail at the Niagara County Jail.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150