February 06. 2014 7:38PM

Exeter man sentenced for putting sexual encounter of young girl on YouTube

Union Leader Correspondent

BRENTWOOD — An Exeter man asked to withdraw his guilty plea on Thursday to charges of recording a sexual encounter with a young girl in 2011, maintaining his public defenders should have sought information about a deputy county attorney handling his case before he was suspended from duty.

“I do believe I was forced into signing this deal. The investigation has been continually developing and not complete,” Robert Stephens, 23, told a judge before being sentenced in Rockingham County Superior Court to 7½ to 15 years in state prison.

The investigation Stephens mentioned is the one scrutinizing the management and operations of the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office, which so far has led to the resignation of two employees and the temporary suspension of County Attorney James Reams.

Judge N. William Delker said on Thursday that he found no grounds to allow Stephens to withdraw his Dec. 23 guilty plea on charges of manufacturing child sexual abuse images and distribution of child sexual abuse images.

“I explained to you that if you wanted to go to trial, you could go to trial,” Delker said, recounting how he questioned Stephens under oath more than a month ago prior to the accepting his guilty plea.

Delker said he reviewed a recording of the plea hearing just before Thursday’s sentencing.

Stephens expressed no hesitation about giving up his right to trial at the time and accepted the terms of the plea agreement, according to Delker.

Recorded encounter

Prosecutors said Stephens met a 14-year-old Massachusetts girl at a local beach in May 2011 and later made a video of her having sex with a 15-year-old boy at a cottage in Hampton. Stephens, then 19, used a laptop camera to record the encounter and posted the video on YouTube.

On Thursday, Stephens read from a prepared statement in court, saying that he was given a short amount of time to contemplate whether to accept a plea offer, or continue forward with a trial where he could have faced upwards of 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted.

He also said that he asked his public defender, Julia Nye, to gather evidence regarding the county attorney investigation, which ensnared Assistant Rockingham County Attorney Tom Reid on Nov. 6 when he was suspended by county commissioners.

Reid resigned on Jan. 17, and the state Attorney General’s Office said that Reid was not the target of its criminal investigation.

Assistant County Attorney Patricia Conway said she agreed that Stephens had failed to meet the legal burden to withdraw his plea.

Conway also said that Nye had made several efforts to negotiate a better deal for her client.

“There was some back and forth, and we had many discussions on this case,” she said.