June 18, 2005
Section: First Edition Cos
Edition: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie; First
Man's pictures were of Lexington Center client
JOHNSTOWN -- A Fulton County Court jury deliberated eight hours Friday before finding Mark A. Stearns guilty of taking photos of a naked Lexington Center client in March of last year. The jury found the 50-year-old Fultonville resident guilty on counts of felony unlawful surveillance and endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 11. The maximum penalty on the felony surveillance count is 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison. Stearns took the case to trial after rejecting two plea bargain offers. After his arrest in November on two misdemeanor charges, he rejected an offer of 60 days in jail and three years probation. Following his indictment in March on the felony surveillance count, he also turned down an offer of six months in jail and five years probation. Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira, who prosecuted at the five-day trial, said she will ask Judge Richard C. Giardino to impose the maximum term. Sira credited the jury Friday night with devoting an extraordinary amount of "time and attention" to the case and for scrutinizing what she called the "complex evidence" presented. The jury deliberated for as long as it did, she said, because it wanted assurance that no one could have altered the time and date recorded on the digital photos taken and presented as evidence. Several read-backs of testimony focused on that point. In the end, Sira said, the jury was satisfied that the camera's system "could not be altered without leaving a trace." Defense attorney Randall E. Kehoe said that although the jury found his client guilty, he was encouraged by the fact that the jury "gave this case so much consideration." That deliberations took eight hours, he said, demonstrated that there were "several weaknesses" in the prosecution's case. Stearns was convicted of using a digital wristwatch camera to take photos of two Lexington clients. One of the clients was photographed before August 2003, when it became a felony to take secretive photos. Stearns, a 10-year employee of Lexington, was fired after his November arrest. State police began their investigation last year after Stearns' estranged wife took his laptop computer when they separated. The photos were discovered in a computer file and turned over to authorities.
Reach Gazette reporter Jim McGuire at 725-8412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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