Plea deal spares NY Amish girls from testifying in kidnap, sex abuse case

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 17, 2015 4:41 PM

By Matthew Liptak

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Reuters) - A New York state man pleaded guilty on Friday to state charges of kidnapping in the abduction of two young Amish sisters from their roadside farm stand, in what appears to be the last in a series of plea deals in the sexual exploitation case.

Stephen Howells II and his girlfriend, Nicole Vaisey, both from Hermon, New York, were arrested in last summer's abduction of the sisters, ages 12 and 7, from the rural Amish community of Oswegatchie near New York's border with Canada. The couple drugged the children, videotaped them being sexually abused and then released them the next day, authorities said.

The two already faced up to several hundred years in prison after pleading guilty to related federal charges.

Howells, 40, a father of three and former registered nurse, used his professional connections to receive prescription drugs to subdue his victims, authorities said.

He appeared in St. Lawrence County Court on Friday and pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree kidnapping. In a similar plea deal on June 15, Vaisey, 26, had pleaded guilty to the same charges.

If they had gone to trial and been convicted, each would have faced 50 years behind bars. Under the plea bargains, they will be punished with concurrent rather than consecutive sentences, so each will serve 25 years in prison.

Both will be sentenced on Oct. 2.

“The reason that we accepted a plea instead of going on to trial is so that we could protect our victims from having to testify,” said St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain.

The Amish, a conservative Protestant denomination, are known for their simple dress and avoiding modern technology and conveniences.

The couple also faced federal sexual exploitation charges stemming from the abuse of the Amish sisters and four other girls as young as 5, who were abused between December 2012 and August 2014.

In a federal plea bargain on May 8, Howells pleaded guilty to 21 counts of child sexual exploitation. He faces up to 580 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 18.

Vaisey also entered a federal plea bargain, pleading guilty to 10 counts of child exploitation. She faces up to 300 years in prison at her sentencing on Sept. 25.

Rain said she and the federal prosecutors worked together to ensure that "these defendants will never get out of prison.”

Howells' attorney, Amy Dona, declined to comment.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg)