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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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HEUVELTON — A puppy was used to lure two Heuvelton sisters into a car by the two kidnap suspects who allegedly held the girls captive for 24 hours and are now behind bars facing charges, according to an aunt of the victims.

Fannie Miller, of Route 184, Depeyster, said Monday that her nieces, ages 12 and 7, were enticed by their abductors to pet a puppy in the back seat of a vehicle that stopped Wednesday night at the roadside vegetable stand in front of the girls’ home at Route 812 and Mount Alone Road.

The aunt said that the younger girl went into the vehicle first and that when her sister followed, the abductors pushed her into the car. The older sister “tried to run away, but she couldn’t get away,” Mrs. Miller said.

The sisters were returned home by a Bigelow couple who found the girls on their doorstep cold, wet and hungry Thursday evening.

“The older one still seemed nervous about it,” Mrs. Miller said. “She looked like a child who had been through something. We’ve been out a couple times to see the family.”

Other relatives have said handcuffs were used to shackle the girls’ ankles and hands together while they were in captivity.

Stephen M. Howells II, 39, and Nicole F. Vaisey, 25, of 1380 County Route 21, Hermon, were arrested Friday on kidnapping charges and are being held in St. Lawrence County jail, Canton.

Mr. Howells waived his right to a preliminary hearing Thursday 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. His attorney, St. Lawrence County Conflict Public Defender Amy L. Dona, declined further comment. 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.

Ms. Vaisey’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday in Fowler Town Court. Her attorney, Bradford C. Riendeau, said Monday afternoon that he is not waiving Ms. Vaisey’s right to the hearing.

Mr. Howells and Ms. Vaisey both 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.

Not-guilty charges were entered on their behalf.

Meanwhile, state police and FBI investigators appeared to have finished their search of the suspects’ home. A gate at the driveway now blocks access to the Hermon property, which has had considerable police activity since Friday.

Investigators focused on the couple’s home and a trailer in front of the house. Ms. Rain said Sunday that investigators were searching the home for electronic media that will undergo a forensics examination. DNA evidence also was being gathered.

Laurie Shanks, a professor emerita of law at Albany Law School, said the preliminary hearing in the case 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 a victim of Mr. Howells. 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.

Ms. Vaisey, who graduated from Colton-Pierrepont Central School in 2007, was active in extracurricular activities, including basketball and softball, according to Superintendent Joseph A. Kardash.

“It’s confusing to understand how a situation like (the kidnapping) can come to be,” Mr. Kardash said.

According to Colton-Pierrepont Board of Education documents from 2011, Ms. Vaisey nearly made her way back onto school grounds in a substitute teaching role three years ago.

During the school board meeting on Oct. 19, 2011, Ms. Vaisey was approved for placement on the district’s substitute teacher list. Mr. Kardash said she never made it into a classroom, though.

“I have no record of her substituting at Colton-Pierrepont. She was never actually in the classroom,” he said. “She never got called in, and she never got paid. She was appointed to a substitute list but was never in the classroom. ... I looked for a pay record but did not find her name anywhere in the pay books.”

After graduating from Colton-Pierrepont in 2007, Ms. Vaisey attended Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., majoring in psychology. She graduated from the school in 2011.

Most recently, she worked part-time with Bows & Bandanas Pet Salon and Resort, Potsdam, for over a year. Her job was to bathe pets for the groomers, owner Chris Taylor has said.

While applying for the job, Mr. Taylor said Ms. Vaisey noted that she worked for LEAP and as a substitute teacher.

A call to LEAP was not returned Monday.

Mr. Howells, 39, has been employed at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center since 2006, working in the emergency department. He joined the Thomas T. Patterson Wound Healing Center in May.

Mr. Howells has been suspended without pay pending the investigation, according to hospital staff.

He graduated from SUNY Canton in 2004 with a nursing degree.

Johnson Newspapers writer Ryne R. Martin contributed to this report.

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