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Court: Ex-South Royalton school principal may appeal sentence in teen-recording voyeurism case

  • Dean Stearns, left, the former Principal of South Royalton School, speaks to his attorney Michael Shane after his change of plea in Windsor County Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on Dec. 11, 2018. Stearns pleaded guilty to surreptitiously recording five teenage girls while they were staying at his Sharon home. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dean Stearns. (Vermont State Police photograph)

Published: 6/18/2021 10:18:09 PM
Modified: 6/18/2021 10:18:19 PM

MONTPELIER — A former South Royalton school principal serving a five-year prison sentence for secretly recording teenage girls in his home will be able to appeal his sentence, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The high court reversed a decision by a lower court that had dismissed the request by Dean Stearns, the former principal, to reconsider the sentence imposed in January 2020.

The Superior Court dismissed Stearns’ request to reconsider his sentence because it was filed last November, more than 90 days after he was sentenced. But Stearns’ attorneys argued, and the high court agreed, that the 90 days should have been counted from when the court last August dismissed his request to appeal the conviction.

In December 2018, Stearns pleaded guilty to five counts of voyeurism and two counts of promoting a recording of sexual conduct. The charges stemmed from a period in 2016 and 2017 when prosecutors said Stearns used hidden cameras to film five teenage girls in his Sharon home. The Superior Court will now consider Stearns’ motion for a reduced sentence on the merits.

Stearns, who is now 59, has been incarcerated in the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., since January 2020, and could be released in December 2024, according to the Department of Corrections website. Windsor County State’s Attorney Ward Goodenough on Friday said, via email, “The State respects the Supreme Court’s ruling, and will now be contesting the merits of the motion to reconsider.”

At Stearns’ sentencing, Windsor Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Mann told him he “stole the innocence” of his victims as she imposed the five-year sentence, which included an additional five to 10 years suspended, and probation. Prosecutors had sought five years in prison, but defense attorney Michael Shane had argued that the entire sentence should be suspended.

Stearns in court at the time apologized to his victims, saying he had “exploited the situation” and saying they “did nothing wrong.”

“I began to groom myself to believe that there were no victims if they never knew,” he said in January 2020. “I stand before the court today a humbled and shamed man.”

Material from the Valley News was used in this report.




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