Anger and tears mixed with relief for a sex crime victim's family, as one chapter in their grueling quest for justice is over.
"I'm not going to let this destroy my family!" said a relative of the victim, whose identity we're keeping secret to protect the child.
"Hurt me, I don't care! Not the kids!!" the man yelled at defendant Stacey Parnitzke.
During the lunch break Wednesday in the third sexual assault trial against her, Parnitzke decided to change her plea from innocent to no contest to a lesser charge. The court interprets that as guilty. Her lawyer said Parnitzke knew if a jury found her guilty it could have meant life in prison.
"She's relieved that it's over," attorney Bob Katims said.
Under the deal, Parnitzke got a 5-to-15 year sentence, but only 3 years of that behind bars, which she's already served. Since Parnitzke is not a citizen of the United States, deportation proceedings against her will start soon and she'll be sent back to her native England. She'll be held in jail until she is deported.
"It behooves everyone to have the matter resolved," Vt. Superior Court Judge Michael Kupersmith said.
The prosecution was glad to get a conviction after one previous trial ended in a hung jury and a second jury's conviction was tossed out.
Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan: I think it's always in the best interest of justice to keep the lines of communication open with the other side, and if you can reach a compromise-- so be it.
Reporter Jack Thurston: Is a plea deal though, in some ways, an easy way out for Parnitzke?
Donovan: I don't think so.
Donovan hopes shipping Parnitzke to Europe will provide closure for the victim.
In gripping testimony hours before the plea deal, the girl told the jury how Parnitzke and her husband, Shane Casey, made her their sex slave, regularly forcing her to mimic pornographic movies and take part in group sex and sodomy. Parnitzke was responsible for the girl at the time.
"I had to get undressed," the teen testified. "At one point I tried to get up and Stacey pushed me back down onto the couch. And Shane came on top of me and did the same thing."
After Parnitzke was sentenced, her former codefendant Shane Casey told Judge Kupersmith there's no way the jury won't hold it against him that Parnitzke is suddenly out of the picture. Casey maintains his innocence, and wants the court to allow other kids to testify that he's a good guy.
"How am I going to get a fair trial, your honor?" Casey asked. "I never did anything to that girl, and I wish she'd tell the truth. I never did anything. I swear to God on my life I never hurt a child-- ever."
"I'm going to suspend the trial until Friday morning," the judge told jurors.
Judge Kupersmith and lawyers will resume Casey's trial Friday. The judge sent the jury home with no explanation for why they're being put on hold, but with strict orders to avoid watching Channel 3 or researching what happened with Parnitzke.
Meanwhile, the girl's family has a message for Vermonters-- be vigilant and protect your kids: "These child sex crimes are happening all over, and we have to put a stop to it," another of the victim's relatives said. "Even one time is too many times. We need to send a message to the rest of the uncaught pedophiles that the state of Vermont is not going to tolerate such heinous crimes."
Stacey Parnitzke still says the charges against her are completely bogus but the plea was a way for her to move on. As for Shane Casey, Vermont Law School professor Cheryl Hanna said if he ends up getting convicted, the fact his co-defendant disappeared in the middle of the trial will surely be a big issue for appeal.
No one's saying publicly if this case could go to a fourth trial, but it's got to be at the back of some people's minds.
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