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Man accused of sexually assaulting woman on her deathbed

 Stephen Edwards
Stephen Edwards (WCAX)
Published: Sep. 5, 2018 at 5:49 PM EDT
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A South Burlington man is accused of sexually assaulting an elderly woman as she lay on her deathbed. Police say Stephen Edwards, 70, went to say goodbye to a woman in hospice and went too far. Edwards is charged with lewd and lascivious conduct and sexual abuse of a vulnerable woman. Police say Edwards didn't deny the allegations but he doesn't believe what he did was a crime.

Burlington Health and Rehab is a nursing home on Pearl Street in Burlington. Police say Stephen Edwards was there visiting a woman he knew on July 8. She was a woman in hospice care just a few days from death, unable to communicate due to her condition. According to court paperwork, a nurse entered the woman's room to administer morphine and found Edwards sexually abusing her.

"Mr. Edwards is charged with sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult stemming from an allegation that he placed his mouth on the breast of a woman that was residing in a rehab facility," Chittenden County Deputy State's Attorney Dana Disano said.

According to the police affidavit, Edwards admitted to the woman's son that he did kiss her breast. But police say Edwards told the son he did not believe what he did was sexual abuse but that he was just saying goodbye.

"I don't want to speak for the family but I am sure any case that involves these sort of allegations is tremendously painful for any family," Disano said.

Police say that the victim died several days after the incident.

"She was someone that was in a vulnerable state which is a reason for the charges," Disano said.

A statement from Burlington Health and Rehab reads, in part: "The care, safety, and well-being of our patients and residents is our priority at Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center. The Center has a zero-tolerance policy with regard to abuse."

Edwards also runs Vermont Coin and Jewelry in South Burlington. He faces separate charges for allegedly selling stolen property.

When WCAX News knocked on his door, we could see Edwards was home but he did not come to the door.

A neighbor we spoke with was shocked to hear what happened, saying that Edwards and his family are wonderful people.

"I know Stephen Edwards briefly, and I certainly know his wife, well enough to say that I am shocked over an accusation like this. He's been in this community for a long time," the neighbor said.

A judge set conditions for Edwards' release pending trial, including that he stay away from Burlington Health and Rehab. Edwards is due back in court Sept. 25 for hearings on both of his cases.