On day of trial, Bourne pleads guilty to possessing child pornography
Stephen Bourne of Concord pleads guilty to two counts of possessing child pornography; Wednesday, July 31, 2013.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Stephen Bourne of Concord (left) and his attorney, Mark Sisti, listen to Deputy Merrimack County Attorney Catherine Ruffle as Bourne pleads guilty to charges of possessing child pornography; Wednesday, July 31, 2013. The trial on those charges was set to begin on Wednesday morning, but
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Stephen Bourne pleaded guilty yesterday to possessing child pornography after a judge decided that jurors could be told that erotic terms like “Lolita sex,” “incest” and “little cuties” had been entered into the search engine of Bourne’s computer.
Bourne and his attorney had been prepared to go to trial yesterday, but after the judge’s decision the Concord man instead accepted a five- to 15-year state prison sentence, with the possibility of having one year of the minimum dropped if he completes sex offender treatment.
While it wasn’t a term of the plea agreement, Deputy Merrimack County Attorney Catherine Ruffle said she intends to drop the other case pending against 54-year-old Bourne, which accuses him of sexually assaulting a now 13-year-old girl. That case went to court in January but ended in a mistrial when the girl’s mother gave testimony a judge called “explosive” and prejudicial.
After yesterday’s sentencing in Merrimack County Superior Court, Ruffle said she weighed how another trial might affect the teen, who appeared timid, soft-spoken and uncomfortable during the last proceeding when asked to describe the alleged assaults. Ruffle added that she accomplished all of her goals through yesterday’s sentence without having to put the girl back on the stand.
In addition to the prison term, Bourne will also be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. A second sentence of 7½ to 15 years will be suspended for 20 years on good behavior. Bourne has been ordered to have no contact with the girl in the sexual assault case or her mother.
Judge Richard McNamara, who could have rejected the plea deal because it was offered after the court’s deadline, agreed to the disposition and said Bourne could begin serving his sentence Aug. 13. Until then, he will wear an electronic monitoring device.
The eight child abuse images Bourne was charged with possessing were found in May 2011 after the Concord police seized his computer while investigating the sexual assault claims, according to the police. But Bourne had actually been investigated the previous year after his wife, Janet Bourne, found photos in her home office that she believed to be child pornography, according to a police affidavit.
While the police have said she took the photos to church elders at River of Grace Church in Concord, and that the photos were ultimately burned, Janet Bourne adamantly denied that claim yesterday.
The church “never had photos, never saw photos, never had anything to do with the photos. . . . I didn’t take them to church people,” she said. “I called friends.”
After the photos were destroyed, Bourne sought help from a counselor who notified the police about his behavior, according to the affidavit.
When Bourne was charged with sexual assault a year later, the police seized his computer and went on to file the child pornography charges heard in court yesterday. The eight photos of girls appearing to be between the ages of 9 and 14 were accessed on a Russian website in the two days before the computer was taken, Ruffle said yesterday.
Bourne pleaded guilty to possessing two of the photos; the other charges were dropped.
Ruffle said yesterday that she was surprised by Bourne’s decision to plead guilty because she had attempted to negotiate an agreement up until Tuesday. But defense attorney Mark Sisti said McNamara’s decision to let a Concord police detective testify about the terms searched on Bourne’s home computer weighed heavily on his client’s decision.
Ruffle argued that the terms were relevant because they were searched during the same time that the photos in question were accessed and showed Bourne was knowingly looking for child pornography. Sisti, though, said he didn’t plan to argue at trial that Bourne accidentally stumbled upon the pictures. He called the terms obviously prejudicial.
“We lost,” Sisti said after the sentencing, in regards to the judge’s decision. “And that certainly, Mr. Bourne isn’t stupid. He understands what that would mean to his defense. He objectively analyzed it and I believe came in with the right decision.”
The case that Ruffle said she will likely drop in the next few days derailed during a January trial when the girl’s mother, who is not being named to protect the identity of her daughter, took the stand.
The previous day, her daughter told the jury that Bourne touched her on her genitals numerous times during 2009 and 2010 while they watched movies at his home in Concord. The assaults she accused Bourne of were brazen. She said that he often touched her beneath a blanket while she sat on his lap and while her mother and Bourne’s wife were in the same room.
The girl also testified that Bourne once came to her home and touched her on her back in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. During the same incident, she said Bourne had asked to take a picture of her on his phone.
The mother testified that she didn’t see Bourne take a picture of her daughter, but that he had quickly gotten in his vehicle and left when she approached him and the girl in the backyard. Sisti asked whether the mother had questioned Bourne about what he was doing.
“I did not ask him,” she said. “I asked my daughter.”
“And . . .” Sisti said, posing another question.
But the woman continued speaking over Sisti, even though the judge had warned her to only answer the specific questions posed to her.
“ ‘Mommy, he was showing me pictures of girls without many clothes on. I didn’t like it.’ That is exactly what she said and continued to say for days after that and months after that and a year after that,” the mother said.
After the jury was dismissed, Ruffle argued the pictures could have been of girls in bathing suits, meaning Bourne hadn’t been accused of any crimes beyond the ones he was on trial for. But McNamara didn’t seem to agree, noting that the girl appeared to be traumatized by what she saw.
The judge declared a mistrial the next morning.
While Sisti had requested the mistrial, he still seemed disappointed with the development, saying he was “quite happy with the way the case was going” due to several discrepancies between the girl’s testimony and what she had said earlier about the abuse.
Bourne yesterday admitted that he accessed child pornography but didn’t change course on the other case. Sisti called the sexual abuse claims “meritless.”