When it came to his 32-year-old stepdaughter, Army medic Brent Steven Horton claimed he was being protective.
Prosecutors say he was obsessed - chasing an off-kilter fantasy that led him to spy on her friends, follow her in his car and repeatedly break into her apartment during a six-month span, when the decorated Special Forces support soldier amassed 1,200 cell phone photos of her personal belongings, including one showing his gloved hand as he examined her birth control pills.
"This case is as disturbing as it gets," prosecutor Adam Bailey told a judge Wednesday, saying that evidence at a July trial showed that Horton "tried to pursue a romantic relationship with (his) daughter." A jury convicted him of second-degree trespassing, a felony, and a misdemeanor alleging that he used her personal computer to monitor her Facebook activity.
Horton, 44, is a sergeant first class in the 10th Special Forces Group, assigned to provide support to the unit's elite Green Berets, Fort Carson records show. He faced up to three years in prison but instead received 4 years on supervised probation - bringing little solace to the victim, Megan Moran of Colorado Springs, who left court in tears.
"What am I going to do?" she cried out in the hallway. "He's going to kill me!"
During the hearing, Horton's wife of 14 years - now estranged - said she had long suffered death threats and other abusive behavior, but turned to marriage counseling and other interventions in hopes of helping him.
Vicki Horton said she "begged" her husband to get help the last time they spoke, in 2016, even as she feared for her life.
"He told me I needed a machine gun to the face," she told the court. "One of Mr. Horton's favorite threats was to burn down our house."
Moran was 18 when her mother married Horton, records show. Authorities say Moran now plans to leave Colorado out of fears for her safety. Horton wasn't charged with threatening his wife or daughter, records show.
As a medic, Horton saved lives on the battlefield in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and his recent convictions came after a lifetime of staying out of trouble, his sister told the court. A Fort Carson spokeswoman confirmed that he is a member of 10th Special Forces Group who served at least one tour in Afghanistan and at least three in Iraq during his 15-year career.
Bailey said he had been notified as recently as Wednesday that Fort Carson officials intend to kick Horton out of the Army, but Horton's attorney, Steven Rodemer, disputed that account, saying no decision has been made. Horton's company commander, Capt. John Whitlock, told the court he was waiting to learn what action the Army planned to take.
Vicki Horton said her husband's interest in her daughter took a turn in late 2015, when he began to grow jealous if she were with other men. In the months that followed, she witnessed him photograph a license plate of one of her daughter's friends and saw him skulking outside her apartment - claiming he ran off when she arrived for an unannounced visit. She suggested that Horton vandalized his stepdaughter's car and apartment as a pretext to keeping a close eye on her, another allegation that wasn't reflected by criminal charges.
Moran called police in 2016 after coming home to find her stepfather in her apartment. Horton's attorney argued at trial that he wanted to retrieve a gun from her apartment because he and Vicki Horton were divorcing and he wanted to sever all ties with her family. A jury acquitted him of first-degree burglary.
Prosecutors say that Horton's Internet search history showed that he investigated how to pick locks, evidence they used to rebut his claim that he had a key and his stepdaughter's permission to be in her apartment.
In declining prosecutors' request for a three-year prison sentence, 4th Judicial District Judge Gregory Werner cited Horton's distinguished Army service record, his lack of criminal history and his apparent need for mental health intervention.
"On probation, I can keep you supervised longer," he said, saying that even if Horton were sentenced to 3 years in prison he would be out in 18 months.
The judge also ordered Horton to complete "moral recognition therapy," which he described as an effective intervention currently used in Veteran's Trauma Court.