Suspect said his father went into cardiac arrest and died when told of the allegations
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - The principal of South Royalton's high school pleaded innocent late Wednesday afternoon to charges that he has been secretly video taping a female exchange student who has been staying with him and his wife at their home in Sharon since August.
Dean Stearns, 55, entered the innocent pleas to a felony count of promoting a sexual recording and to an accompanying misdemeanor count of voyeurism - first offense.
Stearns was released from the courthouse on an unsecured appearance bond despite misgivings by prosecutors who said that they were afraid, based on statements Stearns reportedly made to police prior to his court appearance on Wednesday, that he felt he should have killed himself before he was interviewed by detectives.
The girl, who just turned 16 earlier this month, called police shortly before midnight Tuesday and reported she had found a couple of devices with hidden cameras that seemed like something out of a James Bond movie which she felt had been set up to record her when she was changing her clothes and using the bathroom.
State troopers showed up at Principal Dean Stearns' home in Sharon in the middle of the night and seized the residence while taking the girl to the state police barracks for an interview.
Police said that Stearns eventually confessed to having taped the girl using cameras that were concealed in an alarm clock, a night light and a cell phone charger.
Stearns also told police that after he left his initial interview and travelled to his father's home in Bethel to explain what was transpiring and told him "what had happened that night and that he had been using cameras to secretly watch (the girl)...his (father) went into cardiac arrest and died as a result," Detective Sergeant Michael Dion wrote in an affidavit filed with the court, adding, "Dean told me he felt responsible and guilty for what he had done and wished he had killed himself before coming to speak to me at the barracks."
During Stearns' arraignment defense attorney Mike Shane told Judge Beth Mann that despite the alleged statements he did not feel that Stearns was a risk of flight or non-appearance, saying that both he and a certified mental health screener had talked to Stearns in the court's holding cell before the hearing and did not think he was suicidal.
Detective Dion wrote that when he interviewed the girl during the early hours of Wednesday morning she "said her host parents seemed fine at first; however, she said a strange incident occurred while she was on vacation in Maine with them at a rental house." The girl recounted finding a cell phone propped up on a bathroom countertop which was recording her while she changed to get into the shower," the detective recounted. The girl also said she had noticed Stearns "looking at her through a window while she was changing her clothes in her bedroom at that house as well" but said she had not confronted Stearns about it, the report continued.
The girl told police that about a week ago Stearns had given her a charging cord for her phone "to put in her bathroom" but she said it didn't work properly. She said she left it on her counter but returned home to find it had been plugged back into a wall outlet and that when she took it to her bedroom for a closer look she discovered "it had a small camera embedded in it."
The girl told detectives she was able to connect it to her laptop computer and "several video files appeared" including one showing a man believed to be Stearns setting up and aiming the hidden camera up and another showing her in the bathroom later that day. The girl began looking around her bedroom and discovered another camera was concealed in an alarm clock that Stearns had given her approximately two months beforehand, she told police.
The Stearns' residence was secured by the State Police and a search warrant execution is pending," police said in a statement which concluded, "At this time there is no evidence of other victims, however this investigation is on-going."
Stearns, who has no prior criminal record, is facing a maximum potential penalty of up to 12 years in prison if he were to be convicted of both charges that are now pending against him.
School officials said late Wednesday that Stearns, who had already announced that he was planning to retire at the end of the current school year, has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the court case.