Crime

Court hears alleged nanny kidnapper had preference for strippers, baby oil and meth

Arrest in kidnap, sexual assault of woman in northeast Fresno

Police Chief Jerry Dyer and District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, center, at a news conference announcing the arrest of Joseph Ward, 35, in the kidnap of a woman and a child in northeast Fresno in June.
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Police Chief Jerry Dyer and District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, center, at a news conference announcing the arrest of Joseph Ward, 35, in the kidnap of a woman and a child in northeast Fresno in June.

Joseph Ward, who is facing life in prison for kidnapping and sexual assault, was searching for a victim the day he ran into a 24-year-old nanny talking a walk in northeast Fresno, a prosecutor said Thursday.

What began as an innocent stroll for the nanny and the 18-month-old in her care turned into a nightmare.

Ward is accused of following the victim to the Woodward Park-area home where she was working on June 22, 2018, forcing his way inside and attacking her. He is charged with 12 felonies, including sexual assault, kidnapping and residential burglary.

Ward’s trial in Fresno County Superior Court began on Thursday with opening statements and two witnesses, both strippers.

A woman holding a 1-year-old child was driven to an ATM machine in northeast Fresno to get money for the man who kidnapped them, police say.

Rick Thomas, senior deputy district attorney, said Ward was calculating as he followed the nanny back from her walk near Friant and Fort Washington roads. He walked up to her as she stood outside the two-story home and asked her for a drink of water.

The nanny was already on alert as she reluctantly shared her water bottle, Thomas said.

“She was nervous, but he started to leave as she went to open the front door,” Thomas said. “And then he came up behind her.”

Ward asked for money and her cell phone. He then pulled out a knife, forcing her and the baby inside the home. Thomas said the nanny tried to remain calm as Ward took several laptops and her debit card. She hoped he would leave, but he didn’t.

Thomas said Ward repeatedly asked her to dance, and later poured cooking oil on her, rubbing her body and then sexually assaulting her.

He then made the woman drive him to an ATM at North Cedar and Shepherd avenues and ordered her to withdraw cash. He fled in her vehicle, which was found two days later in northeast Fresno.

Defense: It was someone else

Ward’s defense attorney Amanda Moran challenged the Fresno police investigation, saying detectives arrested the wrong man. She told the jury that the prosecution’s key witness, the nanny, described someone much older than the 35-year-old Ward.

“She said he could have been in his 40s or 50s,” Moran said. “’He was old like my dad,’ she said.’”

Moran said Ward was not the only suspect considered by police; at one point there were at least two other men that detectives thought might be the kidnapper. Moran said the nanny had trouble picking Ward out of a lineup and a DNA sample from Ward failed to link him to the crime.

“There is no other forensic evidence,” she said.

Strippers take stand

Two witnesses, who both work as strippers, testified that Ward was one of their clients.

They said his preference for entertainment was to rub baby oil on their bodies, in much the same way he is alleged to have done to the nanny. They also accused him of spiking their drinks with methamphetamine.

Ward’s trial continues on Monday. If he is found guilty on all charges, he could face life in prison. Ward has been convicted of multiple felonies and this could be his third strike.

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A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.
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