A Vermont judge has granted the request for a new trial to a couple convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a child. This comes just a week before Stacey Parnitzke and Shane Casey were scheduled to be sentenced to possible life terms on their sex crime convictions. A Burlington jury handed down guilty verdicts after their second trial in April. Their first trial, in 2009, ended in a hung jury. Now, they could face a third trial after Judge Michael Kupersmith ruled that an expert witness for the prosecution overstepped his bounds.
"The victim is extremely upset," said Kristine Bickford of the Children's Advocacy Center.
Tuesday, court clerks in Burlington filed a ruling by Judge Kupersmith granting Stacey Parnitzke and Shane Casey a new trial. In April, a jury found the couple, who are recovering alcohol and drug addicts, turned a girl Parnitzke was caring for into their personal sex slave. The child's testimony even pointed to Parnitzke as allowing other men to routinely assault her.
Advocates say the girl never swayed from her version of events. "They want justice," Bickford said following a conversation with the girl's family.
In a written ruling, Kupersmith said the defendants deserve another shot at justice too, saying errors were made at their trial. The judge described how an expert prosecution witness-- South Burlington pediatrician Dr. Joseph Hagan-- indicated he believed the girl's story. Kupersmith wrote, "Dr. Hagan's testimony that this is a textbook case of sexual abuse usurps the jury's role in determining the credibility of witnesses and deprived Defendants of a fair trial."
The judge worried the jurors may have thought Dr. Hagan was a "truth-detector" in a case that had no real physical evidence of sexual assault and relied heavily on the alleged victim's story.
Parnitzke and Casey have both maintained their innocence from the very beginning, saying the girl was coached by a vindictive father and overzealous investigators. Defense lawyers call Kupersmith's ruling "gratifying," but the child's family is not giving up.
"They're determined and willing to do whatever it takes," Bickford said. "As they said to me on the phone, it's not if the trial takes place, it's when the trial takes place."
But the decision as to whether there will be a third trial-- likely an expensive one-- falls to Chittenden County's head prosecutor, T.J. Donovan. He told WCAX News that he believes the alleged victim's story but has not yet decided whether to try Parnitzke and Casey again. They are still in jail.