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Hermon man charged with kidnapping Amish children waives right to preliminary hearing; girlfriend’s case moving forward

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HERMON — A Hermon man charged with kidnapping two Amish children has waived his right to a preliminary hearing Thursday.

Stephen M. Howells II, 39, and Nicole F. Vaisey, 25, both of 1380 County Route 21, Hermon, were each charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping on Friday.

Mr. Howells’s attorney, St. Lawrence County Conflict Public Defender Amy L. Dona, waived her client’s right to a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to believe he committed a felony offense. The case will now be handed up to superior court for possible grand jury action. She declined further comment on the case.

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain said no deals had been made with Ms. Dona in exchange for her decision to waive the preliminary hearing.

“I will give them some discovery they are not entitled to right now,” she said.

Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday in Fowler Town Court.

Ms. Vaisey’s attorney, Bradford C. Riendeau, said Monday afternoon he is not waiving Ms. Vaisey’s right to the hearing. The couple are charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping with the intent to inflict physical injury or sexually violate or sexually abuse. Ms. Rain has said the girls were sexually assaulted.

Laurie Shanks, a professor emerita of law at the Albany Law School, said a preliminary hearing is a probable cause determination. “Two things happen at a preliminary hearing. An independent magistrate has to determine if a felony crime was committed and if the person charged with the crime is the person who did it. The standard is the minimum,” she said.

She said defense attorneys often use preliminary hearings to gauge the strength of the prosecution’s case. “In the state of New York, there is almost no discovery. You might not even get a copy of the police report, fingerprint analysis, test results, any statements until much later,” she said, noting some of that evidence might surface at a preliminary hearing.

Ms. Shanks said the case shows why co-defendants need their own attorneys in court cases. “This is a true conflict of interest. The lawyer for the girlfriend has a far different defense than whatever his (Mr. Howells) defense will be,” she said.

Mr. Riendeau has suggested his client was also Mr. Howells’s victim. He said Ms. Vaisey was involved in a “master-slave” relationship.

“She was the submissive one,” Mr. Riendeau said. “I am currently researching on what happens when prisoners of war go through enhanced interrogation. What torture has done to her personality to determine just how compliant she was. Was it really voluntary? Can you really give consent to be tortured?” he said.

Mr. Riendeau said the master-slave relationship began as soon as the couple met.

“From there it just gets messier, messier and messier,” Mr. Riendeau said.

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