May 11, 2005
JOHNSTOWN -- A plea bargain offer that would have required a former Lexington Center employee to serve six months in jail and five years of probation for allegedly taking photos of nude clients is off the table. Mark A. Stearns, 50, of Iris Lane, Fultonville, declined to accept the plea bargain offered and is now scheduled to go to trial on June 13. Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira has now withdrawn the offer. Stearns' attorney, Randall E. Kehoe of Albany, said he believes the prosecution's case is weak and he is looking forward to an acquittal. Kehoe said the signature on the confession Stearns provided police is a forgery, a claim he said he intends to prove by presenting a handwriting expert at a May 31 pretrial hearing. While Stearns did briefly own the wristwatch digital camera that authorities say was used to take photos of two Lexington clients, Kehoe said his client was unable to operate the device and gave it away. The photos that police said were found on a laptop computer which Stearns' wife took after the couple split were fabricated with a special software program used for photo editing, Kehoe contends. Kehoe said he has witnessed a demonstration by an expert who was able to transpose Kehoe's face onto the naked body of a man in a wheelchair. Kehoe said the fabrication took seconds. Kehoe said he is also skeptical that Sira can prove the photos were taken after 2004, when taking surreptitious photos became a felony. Sira was not persuaded on those issues Tuesday. "An acquittal is not likely," Sira said. "The evidence is very strong." Sira emphasized that Stearns turned over the watch camera to police and confessed in detail. She said the confession was witnessed by two officers. Sira said new evidence is strengthening her case. She said family members have discovered a photo album, allegedly taken by Stearns, of young high school-age boys playing basketball without shirts. She said the state hotline received a complaint in 1995 that Stearns was taking photos of his children while they were nude. The complainant alleged Stearns may have also taken photos of Lexington Center clients nude, Sira said. Sira said Stearns defended himself in 1995 by declaring that he and the rest of his family were nudists. Sira said police did not have enough evidence in 1995 to file charges. Stearns was arrested in November on two misdemeanor counts of endangering the disabled Lexington Center clients. The indictment, returned on March 17, charged him with felony unlawful surveillance and misdemeanor endangering. The Lexington Center, one of Fulton County's largest employers, is a nonprofit agency that provides services to people with a variety of mental and physical disabilities.
Copyright 2005, 2006 The Daily Gazette Co. All Rights Reserved.