August 12, 2005
Section: Local News
Edition: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie; First
Prison term set in nude photos case Former Lexington aide took pictures of disabled man
JOHNSTOWN -- Mark A. Stearns, the former Lexington Center aide convicted of taking secret photos of a naked male client, was sentenced Thursday in Fulton County Court to state prison. Stearns, a 50-year-old Fultonville resident who was fired from Lexington after his arrest last fall, was sentenced by Judge Richard C. Giardino to a term of 1 1/3 to 4 years, the maximum on the felony of second-degree unlawful surveillance. Giardino, who called Stearns "warped," also sentenced him to serve a year concurrently with the other sentence on his conviction on a charge of endangering the welfare of a disabled person, a misdemeanor. Before pronouncing sentence, Giardino rejected a motion from defense attorney Randall Kehoe to set aside the June 17 verdict on the grounds of juror misconduct. Giardino said evidence didn't support the motion. Days after the trial concluded, a juror came forward to complain that the jury ignored the evidence and pressured him into voting for a guilty verdict. Giardino held a hearing on the matter earlier this month. Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira argued that the hearing revealed that the complaining juror was not coerced or threatened. She said case law clearly shows a verdict cannot be disturbed because of an "after-the-fact change of heart." Dismissing Kehoe's motion, Giardino noted that when the jurors were individually polled the night of the verdict, the complaining juror did not hesitate to vote guilty. There "was nothing to indicate his vote was influenced by misconduct," Giardino said. Kehoe argued that Stearns had "accepted responsibility [for his actions] from the very moment state police investigators appeared at his house." Kehoe asked for local jail time, a provision of an early plea offer that Stearns rejected. Sira, calling Stearns a man "whoAIDE B3 Continued from page B1 is completely absorbed by himself," said he has not taken "responsibility for anything." Sira said Stearns violated the trust placed in him by the families of the disabled clients at the Lexington Center by using a wristwatch camera "for his own perverse purposes. He had no right to do that to those men and to their families." Commenting after the proceeding, Sira said her investigation determined "there was a level of depravity there we certainly didn't get to the bottom of in this case." Stearns, a 10-year staffer at Lexington, declined an opportunity to speak. He was arrested after he and his wife separated and she took custody of a laptop computer on which Stearns had stored the digital photos. Giardino noted that Stearns told a probation officer preparing a sentencing evaluation that he believes he is viewed by Giardino as "evil and warped." Giardino assured him Wednesday he does not consider him evil, but does view him as warped. "It is bizarre to take photos under those circumstances," the judge said. When Stearns was arrested he was charged with taking photos of two clients. It was later determined photos taken of the second client fell outside the statute of limitations. Kehoe said he believes there are at least two issues a higher court can consider on appeal, including his contention that state police did not turn over key evidence that dated the digital photos. Sira said state police turned over all evidence.
Reach Gazette reporter Jim McGuire at 725-8412 or email@example.com.
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