Child sex-assault case ends in plea bargain
November 13, 2006
In a stunning turn of events Monday, Stephen Harrison pleaded guilty to second degree criminal trespass on the day he was supposed to stand trial for sexual assault on an 8-year-old girl. Harrison, a prominent California architect, was sentenced to three years of probation for trespassing. As part of the plea bargain, Harrison also must perform 60 hours of community service, cannot drink alcohol, must go through alcohol treatment, and can have no contact with the victim or the victim’s family. Harrison, 49, refused comment Monday. Assistant District Attorney Gail Nichols said new evidence came to light over the weekend that made her willing to drop the more serious charges, though she refused to elaborate. Sexual assault on a child is punishable with eight years to life in prison, while criminal trespassing is a misdemeanor that, in this case, came with no jail sentence.Nichols said the father of the victim expressed his unhappiness with the system during the plea and sentencing hearing. The written minutes of the hearing did not include details of the father’s comments, though they did show that his lawyer, John Clune, expressed disappointment.Neither could be reached for comment. “[Clune] states one of the most ‘unjust’ resolutions he has seen and explains,” reads the court record of Monday’s hearing. “It was in the interest of justice to dismiss the more severe charge,” Nichols stated. “The new evidence indicates quite clearly alcohol was a major problem here.”Harrison, his wife and their children had joined the victim’s family in a house near Hunter Creek, where the alleged assault happened Dec. 22. In the arrest warrant affidavit, the 8-year-old victim said Harrison covered her mouth when she yelled for her mother and told her not to tell on him or he’d go to jail. The mother later told investigators her daughter indicated Harrison had fondled her and ejaculated on her clothes. When Aspen Police Det. Eric Ross interviewed the victim, she said that Harrison touched her face, hands and chest. Ross, who wrote the arrest warrant affidavit, refused to comment about the case or the resolution in deference to the victim and victim’s family. In the plea agreement Monday, Harrison pleaded guilty to illegally entering the room. During the hearing, Harrison’s lawyer, Forrest Lewis, claimed his client had not had a drink since the incident and was in treatment for alcohol abuse. “I consulted with experts on whether this would be an appropriate resolution to reasonably ensure the safety of the community,” Nichols said. “I do think alcohol was a major part of this case. That concession made me feel I was doing the best I could.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.