FOWLER — The Hermon couple accused of kidnapping two Heuvelton girls last week handcuffed them to a bed and planned to make them slaves, according to a St. Lawrence County detective who testified Thursday afternoon at the preliminary hearing for one of the suspects.
The suspects, Nicole Vaisey, 25, and Stephen M. Howells II, 39, of 1380 County Route 21, feared being caught in the intensive police search for the girls, however, and 24 hours after abducting them drove the girls to an isolated area and dropped them off, according to Detective Sgt. Brooks Bigwarfe, who testified on a statement he said Ms. Vaisey gave him.
Ms. Vaisey, 25, appeared in Fowler Town Court for a preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon.
She and Mr. Howells, 39, were arrested Friday and initially both charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping with the intent to inflict physical injury or sexually violate or sexually abuse.
The two are accused of using a puppy to lure the two Amish girls, ages 7 and 12, into the couple’s car on Aug. 13 at a farm stand at Route 812 and Mount Alone Road. The girls were recovered 24 hours later when they were dropped off in the hamlet of Bigelow, near Richville, and asked a resident to take them home.
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain said the charges were amended to second-degree kidnapping for the purposes of the hearing so the two girls would not have to testify. Ms. Rain said she would seek a first-degree kidnapping charge in a grand jury indictment.
Fowler Town Justice Paul M. Lamson ruled after listening to testimony from Detective Sgt. Bigwarfe, the sole witness to testify at the hearing, and reviewing statements from both defendants submitted by Ms. Rain, that enough evidence had been presented to hold the felony count over for Superior Court action and that Ms. Vaisey should be sent back to the St. Lawrence County jail without bail pending further court action.
Ms. Vaisey’s attorney, Bradford C. Riendeau, asked Judge Lamson to release his client from custody. He said she is a lifelong county resident and contended that she could be at risk of harm from fellow inmates if she remains incarcerated. He said she would stay with family members.
Mr. Howells’s attorney, St. Lawrence County Public Defender Amy Dona, previously waived his right to the hearing and is being held without bail in the county jail. She attended the Fowler courtroom on Thursday afternoon as an observer.
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine if a felony has been committed and if there is reasonable cause to believe the defendant committed that crime. The standards are much lower than at trial.
During the hearing, Detective Sgt. Bigwarfe said he first spoke to the girls at 8 p.m. last Thursday night, when they were found. He said he first met Ms. Vaisey at approximately 4 p.m. Friday after she voluntarily drove to the sheriff’s office in a red two-door Pontiac Sunfire.
Mr. Bigwarfe said Ms. Vaisey gave a statement to him and signed it during their interview. According to the statement, she said she and Mr. Howells referred to the incident as a “shopping trip” and said he had scouted the stand days before the abduction, and even bought vegetables from the girls. Mr. Howells had wanted to go back and get them to “make them their slaves,” according to the statement she provided investigators.
Mr. Howells and Ms. Vaisey dropped his three children off with his ex at 6:30 the evening of the kidnapping, Mr. Bigwarfe said. According the statement she made to investigators, they returned to their Hermon home and picked up their golden retriever-Doberman mix, which she called Kaleidoscope, and tied it to the driver’s side in the back seat of their white 2001 four-door Honda Civic so the girls would have to lean into the car to pet the dog.
About 6:45 p.m., the pair arrived at the vegetable stand at Route 812 and Mount Alone Road outside Heuvelton and parked the car in front of the stand by a large tree putting them out of sight of the house and neighbors, she told investigators. When the girls arrived at the vegetable stand, Mr. Howells lured the girls to the car where the dog was, at which time the older of the two girls began to panic, Ms. Vaisey told investigators.
“(She) was getting a little nervous,” Mr. Bigwarfe said Ms. Vaisey told him. “So he pushed them in to the car and got in behind them and she sped away and headed back to their home in Hermon.”
She told investigators she backed up next to the house, about 30 feet away from their driveway, so neighbors wouldn’t see the children who were handcuffed together as in a three-legged race. Once inside, they remained cuffed to a bed in the couple’s bedroom and a second bedroom upstairs for most of the time they were in captivity. She said the girls were uncuffed to use the bathroom until she became fearful they would run away.
Ms. Vaisey told investigators she and Mr. Howells were scared by media reports and opted to release the girls in an isolated area. She said she drove the couple’s white vehicle to check for roadblocks and Mr. Howells followed her a short time later with the two girls.
Ms. Vaisey declined to testify at the hearing.
Mr. Riendeau, Ms. Vaisey’s attorney, has suggested his client was also a victim of Mr. Howells. He said Ms. Vaisey was involved in a “master-slave” relationship.
“It’s consistent with what I think is going on here,” Mr. Riendeau said following the hearing. “He is a very selfish person, manipulative, and not somebody I’m inviting over for supper, that’s for sure. I look at her as a young lady in a very difficult situation who needs all the help she can get from counsel and all the support she can get from her family.”
But Ms. Rain said Ms. Vaisey put herself in this situation willingly and that Judge Lamson made the appropriate ruling by keeping them both behind bars without bail.
“I was delighted that he remanded them after reviewing the statements of both this defendant and the codefendant, Howells, because I think what he saw in those statements was indicative of their culpability,” Ms. Rain said. “I know that Mr. Riendeau is indicated that his client wasn’t very culpable and that she was a slave. Her statement and his statement defeat that defense.”
“They were both very equally involved,” Ms. Rain added. “She put herself in that situation. She wanted to be in that situation and she participated fully.”
Video of Ms. Vaisey leaving the hearing can be found at http://wdt.me/vaisey-hearing-exit.