FOWLER — The Hermon couple accused of kidnapping two Heuvelton girls last week handcuffed them to a bed and planned to keep them as slaves, according to a St. Lawrence County detective who testified Thursday 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 regarding a statement he said Ms. Vaisey gave him.
Ms. Vaisey appeared in Fowler Town Court for the preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon.
She and Mr. Howells both were arrested Friday and 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.
After hearing from Detective Sgt. Bigwarfe, the sole witness to testify, and reviewing statements from both defendants submitted by Ms. Rain, Fowler Town Justice Paul M. Lamson ruled that enough evidence had been presented to hold the felony count over for Superior Court action.
He sent Ms. Vaisey 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. He said she is a lifelong county resident and could be at risk of harm from fellow inmates. He said she would stay with family members.
Mr. Howells previously waived his right to the hearing and is being held without bail in the county jail. His attorney, St. Lawrence County Conflict Defender Amy L. Dona, attended the Fowler courtroom Thursday 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 the 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. Aug. 14, when they were found.
He said he first met Ms. Vaisey at approximately 4 p.m. the next day when 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.” She stated 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 Ms. Vaisey’s statement.
Mr. Howells and Ms. Vaisey dropped his three children off with his ex-wife at 6:30 the evening of the kidnapping, Mr. Bigwarfe said.
According to Ms. Vaisey’s statement, they then returned to their Hermon home and picked up their golden retriever-Doberman mix, which she called Kaleidoscope.
The dog was tied 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, according to the statement.
About 6:45 p.m., the pair parked at the vegetable stand by a large tree that put them out of sight of the house and neighbors, Ms. Vaisey told investigators. When the girls came out to the stand, Mr. Howells lured them to the car to show them the dog, at which time the 12-year-old became nervous, Ms. Vaisey stated.
“So he pushed them into the car and got in behind them and she sped away and headed back to their home in Hermon,” Mr. Bigwarfe testified.
Ms. Vaisey 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 in a second bedroom 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 decided 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 that 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 has 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.