Navy Capt. Theodore Essenfeld, the former commanding officer of the San Diego-based Naval warship Pearl Harbor, was found guilty Friday of creating hurtful and embarrassing fake profiles of his ex-partner

The former commander of the San Diego-based Naval warship Pearl Harbor was convicted by a federal jury Friday of cyberstalking an ex-girlfriend by creating fake online accounts in her name and posting private photos of her “without her consent and with the intent to hurt and embarrass her.”

Navy Capt. Theodore Essenfeld, 52, was found guilty of one count of cyberstalking and one count of using the victim’s name and date of birth without authorization to create the fake accounts.

The four-day trial began Monday in San Diego, and jurors needed less than two hours Friday morning to reach the guilty verdicts. Essenfeld’s attorney said his client will appeal the conviction.

“My client and I highly respect the jury’s verdict,” defense attorney Kerry Armstrong told the Union-Tribune in a statement Friday. “However, I was hopeful that the jury would have been instructed as to a certain definition, but that did not occur. So Mr. Essenfeld hopes to be found not-guilty in a future trial.”

Essenfeld was first indicted in February 2023 and had remained out of custody during most pretrial proceedings. But a judge ordered him to be detained last month after ruling that during the pendency of the case, Essenfeld had created additional online profiles to share photos and personal information about the victim. Essenfeld has appealed that ruling with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Prosecutors said Essenfeld was finalizing a divorce in the spring of 2018 when he and the victim met on the dating site The couple dated for about three years, though prosecutors said both went back on the dating site at various times without telling each other. About half of their relationship was long-distance after the Navy transferred Essenfeld in January 2020 to Colorado.

When Essenfeld found out in late 2020 that his girlfriend was also back on the dating site, he created two fake personas to contact her, then later confronted her about those interactions, assistant U.S. attorneys Sabrina Fève and Michael Deshong wrote in a trial brief. The prosecutors said that’s also when Essenfeld opened fraudulent email and cellphone accounts using the victim’s personal information, then used those accounts to register fake Facebook and LinkedIn profiles in the victim’s name.

For years the victim did not know about the accounts, and the photos posted there were not particularly harmful, though there were photos of the victim while she was in the Navy and photos of her from a dance class that she’d previously asked Essenfeld not to share. But after the couple split, prosecutors said Essenfeld began posting other private photos that the victim had shared just with him, as well as vulgar and explicit content taken from the Internet. The victim’s brother inadvertently found the Facebook account.

Essenfeld later posted sexually explicit photos of the victim with a man whose face is not visible, prosecutors said, though they believe the man in the photos is Essenfeld.

Upon learning about the fake accounts, the victim suspected Essenfeld and made a report to military officials. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service in San Diego launched an investigation. Prosecutors said that Essenfeld initially denied making the fake accounts, but after being confronted with digital evidence connecting him to the scheme, he confessed.

“I wanted to hurt her feelings,” he told investigators, according to the prosecution’s trial brief. “I think I was just bitter and I wanted to … embarrass her.”

Armstrong argued in February in a motion to dismiss the case that Essenfeld’s conduct was protected by the First Amendment. The defense attorney wrote that there is a “fine line between protected free speech and harassing speech that crosses into criminality,” and that his client had not crossed that line.

“Mr. Essenfeld never threatened (the victim) whatsoever, never followed her or set up surveillance tracking her whereabouts, and never used any form of violence toward her,” the defense attorney argued.

U.S. District Judge Robert Huie denied that motion. The judge also denied Armstrong’s request on Friday that Essenfeld be released from custody until sentencing.

The judge set sentencing for Sept. 6.

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