By Eric Francis
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Two local boys who spent thirteen tense months faced with felony sexual assault charges which had called for prison terms ranging from a minimum of ten years clear up to life in prison resolved their cases late last week with a complicated set of plea agreements designed to keep them out of jail entirely.
Sean Conlon of Plymouth and Tyler DiStefano of Reading — who has since moved to Maine — have both turned 17 since their arrests last fall but, under the terms of the new agreement cut with the state, they will remain on probation for the next five years, until well after each of their 22nd birthdays.
The boys were arrested on October 8, 2010 after a then-14-year-old female classmate told school officials she’d gotten into their car in the WUHS parking lot following a school event, and they drove her to a remote location where they molested her for 45 minutes.
Conlon and DiStefano were both charged with two felony sexual assaults on a minor and they were also both charged with joining together to restrain and assault another person, a statute designed to address “gang rape” type situations — a charge which actually carried the most severe potential minimum and maximum penalties.
Under the terms of the deal agreed to on Friday, all of those felony charges have now been transferred over to the juvenile justice division, a court where outcomes are generally kept confidential. Even if a juvenile proceeding were to result in a conviction on one or more of the charges, the court’s authority to incarcerate defendants expires once they reach the age of legal majority.
Transferring the most serious charges against the teens out of the adult system through negotiations in recent weeks represents a major victory for the teens, whose lawyers had spent several weeks this spring bringing in former teachers, friends and relatives of the boys to testify in what was at the time an unsuccessful effort to try to convince the judge to shift the cases over to the more lenient juvenile venue.
While the felony cases have now disappeared off the public radar and into the juvenile system, as part of the larger resolution of the cases on Friday both teens pled guilty in the adult criminal court to a new slate of misdemeanor charges stemming from the same set of facts laid out in the original criminal complaints drawn up by state police detectives and prosecutors.
Conlon and DiStefano each plead guilty to simple assault, engaging in a prohibited act, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor (with Conlon pleading guilty to an additional second delinquency count).
Both teens received nearly identical overall sentences of between 3-to-12 months with all of that time suspended and five years of probation.
Probation conditions that were spelled out include a requirement to undergo a screening for statutory sex offender and mental health issues as well as prohibitions against sexual contact or sexually explicit communications with females under the age of 16 along with requirements that both teens graduate from high school.
This article first appeared in the December 15th edition of the Vermont Standard.