A 53-year-old Billings man has been charged with raping a 17-year-old girl nine years ago and then relentlessly stalking her for years.
Leslie Dean Ernst has been charged with felony counts of sexual intercourse without consent and stalking.
Ernst has also been charged with a third felony offense of privacy in communications involving a second woman who prosecutors say received lewd text messages from Ernst in July.
Ernst was convicted of felony privacy in communications for harassing the same woman in 1994 and received a five-year prison sentence.
Ernst was arrested earlier this month on a $75,000 warrant. He made his initial appearance this week in Yellowstone County Justice Court, where Judge Larry Herman set bond at $50,000.
Herman reduced the $75,000 bond amount requested by Deputy County Attorney Juli Pierce after Ernst’s attorney, Robert Kelleher Jr., said the rape charge is nearly 10 years old.
Kelleher also argued that Ernst has lived in Billings for 40 years and is self-employed.
Herman ordered Ernst to appear for arraignment Sept. 26 in Yellowstone County District Court.
A January 2009 story in The Billings Gazette featured Ernst in a report about family members who provide care to elderly parents. Ernst told a reporter that he quit his job as a psychology professor in Idaho two years earlier and moved to Billings to care for his 85-year-old
An eight-page affidavit filed by prosecutors outlines the current charges against Ernst, and it alleges Ernst has a history stretching back to 1984 of “multiple complaints regarding inappropriate sexual behavior with female minors and young female adults.”
In 2008, Ernst filed a complaint of elder abuse against a home health-care agency providing care for his father. A police investigation determined that the claim was unfounded after employees of the agency were interviewed.
The employees said the agency discontinued services to Ernst’s father because of Ernst’s behavior toward the care providers. Ernst would “rub up against them,” follow them while they were working, and solicit them to model for him for money, the affidavit states.
The victim of the rape in 2004 was then a 17-year-old high school senior who said she met Ernst on Nov. 1 of that year through an online chat room. Ernst claimed to be 27 years old.
The girl said Ernst gave her his telephone number and she began speaking to him by phone. Ernst asked to meet her, she said, and she replied they could meet in a public place. Ernst refused, and when the girl declined to meet him a few days later she received a text stating she had better come to his house or she “would not like the consequences,” the affidavit states.
The girl said she went to Ernst’s house the next evening. She found him waiting for her in a downstairs bedroom wearing only a robe. She told him she was leaving because he was much older than he had claimed, but Ernst grabbed her, threw her on a bed and raped her, court records state.
The girl reported the rape to Billings police three days later, after she received several harassing and profane phone messages from Ernst, including one which stated she could “say goodbye” to her job and school unless she returned his call.
The messages were reviewed by a police detective, and on Nov. 16 officers served a search warrant at Ernst’s residence on Cody Drive. Several items were seized, including computer equipment.
The computer equipment was analyzed by a state agent, but no charges were filed against Ernst at that time.
The stalking continued, and the victim would later tell police that she received numerous harassing phone calls despite changing her cellphone number three times in three and a half years.
In 2008, the victim, who was then 21, reported the harassing calls to the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office. No charges were filed at that time.
Then in February 2010, a Billings police detective contacted the woman about the complaints she filed in 2004 and 2008.
The woman said the harassment had continued even though she had changed her cellphone number numerous times.
The woman said the stalker “was somehow able to obtain her new cellphone numbers and a significant amount of personal information,” court records state.
The woman said she was afraid and wanted the harassment stopped.
In July 2010, the woman obtained a permanent order of protection against Ernst. But early the next year, she began receiving messages from a person she believed to be Ernst on her Facebook account.
The messages were from people she did not know, the woman said, and made reference to the restraining order and Ernst. One person the woman suspected was Ernst claimed to be a woman wanting to know what she thought of Ernst and what he had done to her.
The harassment continued this year, when the woman started receiving harassing phone calls and text messages in March. The messages were similar to those she had received in the past, court records state. The woman was taunted to guess the identity of the caller, who would state, “You know my name.”
Some of the calls were made as the woman was leaving work or arriving home, making her believe she was being followed, court records state.
County Attorney Scott Twito said Wednesday that his office only learned of the 2004 rape report in June when the stalking case was referred by the Billings Police Department for possible charges.
Police Capt. John Bedford said it appears that a decision was made after the 2004 rape investigation not to refer the case to the County Attorney’s Office for prosecution. But it is unclear who made that decision and why, he said.