Stacey Parnitzke was wide-mouthed in stunned silence when a jury of eight women and four men delivered guilty verdicts for Parnitzke and her co-defendant Shane Casey. The husband and wife were convicted of using an elementary schooler as a sex slave when Parnitzke was supposed to be caring for the girl in her Burlington apartment in 2005 and 2006.
"I think she just feels like justice was done and she feels really validated, which was so important in this case," said Kristine Bickford, the executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center in Burlington.
The jurors spent more than eight hours deliberating. Nearly half that time was spent listening to audio recordings of the victim's often tearful testimony, in which she described how Parnitzke would force her to watch pornographic movies then act out what she saw with adult men.
"Like, they'd be doing the same thing to her. Or she'd just sit there and watch," the teen testified during the trial.
"You can't cry on cue," Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan said. "You can't have a 14-year-old girl respond with those types of emotions if she were making this up."
The girl's testimony stood up to a sophisticated defense in which lawyers argued the child was coerced by police and Parnitzke's ex-husband into telling her story on the witness stand, not once, but twice. A jury last summer could not arrive at a unanimous verdict, apparently deadlocked over a lack of physical evidence. But prosecutors did not doubt the victim's credibility.
"That trumps everything. If somebody is believable, if somebody is credible, that usually wins the case," Donovan said.
Shane Casey rubbed his face with his lips quivering as his lawyer double-checked with jurors if they all agreed to send Casey to prison for the sex crimes. They did.
"I think this speaks volumes that we have zero tolerance for this happening," Bickford said.
The defense attorneys declined comment.
Parnitzke and Casey could each face life in prison. But a sentencing date has not been set.
Prosecutor T.J. Donovan called it extremely disturbing to hear the victim say there are other men in the Burlington area who raped her and he promised to bring them to trial if investigators can ever connect offenders to this victim.
The victim seems to be doing well. WCAX News talked to the girl and her family after the verdict came in. They said they now have a wonderful and healthy life in California and they were enjoying seeing the snow in Vermont. They thanked the jury for their focus on the case and said they are looking forward to putting this ordeal behind them and focusing on the girl's happy growth.
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