Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Joplin man's lawyer asks for lighter sentence on child porn charge: He really wasn't a youth minister

On the day before his sentencing, the lawyer for a Joplin man charged with child pornography charges, claims his client should receive a lighter sentence because he is not a youth minister.

Nicholas Lane Stephens, 25, pleaded guilty March 15 to a child pornography charge. Under a plea agreement, the government dropped a sexual exploitation of a child charge,

In the plea agreement, which was filed in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, the government described Stephens as a "youth minister."

That's not the case, Stephens' attorney, Mark A. Hammer, said in the memorandum, in which he asked that Stephens' sentence be limited to five years.

There is controversy regarding whether Stephens was a youth minister or held himself out to be a youth minister. While only 2 levels are at stake in the question, the Government will argue – and the Court has already expressed its concern – that this position would render Stephens’ conduct more abhorrent and less worthy of a downward variance. 

The answer to the first question is no – Defendant was not, in fact, a “Youth Minister”. Persons seeking certification in Youth Ministry in The United Methodist Church must meet the standards set by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry's Division of Ordained Ministry (GBHEM). 

These include successful completion of five (5) certification courses relating to Youth Ministry. Courses are designed to provide a graduate academic foundation. Other requirements for certification include personal and church qualifications and experience in the area of Youth Ministry, as determined by GBHEM.  

Counsel has attempted to reach Pastor Aaron Brown, the head pastor of the relevant church, without success. In the meantime, the Government has no evidence that Stephens completed any certification courses or was interning to obtain experience for that certification. 

Nor is there any evidence that Stephens held himself out as a youth minister. Jane Doe 1 & 2 referred to Stephens as a youth minister but there is no further investigation as to what they meant by that. 

Did Stephens actually represent that he was a youth minister or was it common practice for children, teenagers and young adults to refer to all volunteers at the church with the respectful title, “Youth Minister”? 

Did someone else refer to Stephens as a youth minister when asked by or when speaking with Jane Doe 1 and/or 2? There is no evidence that Stephens ever spoke about religious matters with Jane Doe 1 or 2. 
There is no evidence that he had knowledge in, or would have otherwise discussed matters related to, such a certification. The young women never reported that he endeared himself to teaching the meaning of the Bible or equipping them as disciples for the transformation of the world. 

As the well-worn saying stipulates, the absence of evidence is not evidence of its absence, but it is not Stephens’ burden to prove the negative. We can throw around words like “youth minister” and allow ourselves to imagine children, vulnerable to men of the collar – or who characterize themselves as such – plied by the ‘pious’ men they trust to send photos of their child-bodies for the minister’s deviant pleasure. 

But ‘imagining’ or ‘fearing’ is not evidence. The Court has received no information that Stephens ever presented himself in that role or, more importantly, that he somehow used the position to persuade a 17-year-old woman to send him explicit photos or to lie in the back seat of his car and make out with her pants down. 

As stated in the PSR, Stephens takes exception with the report that he told agents he was a youth minister. More clear, however is that Jane Doe 1 did not tell Stephens that she was wearing “those jeans” because she was sucked-in by a man preaching the Bible. 

That is what we’re all afraid of and there is no evidence that anything like that happened. Stephens wasn’t a youth minister, in the traditional sense of that word. He was a cute, skinny, 23-year-old, with long hair and an electric guitar. 

Also relevant to the nature and circumstances of the offense, Jane Doe 1 admits that Stephens never asked her for any image, but she felt “pressured” to send him a dozen explicit photos because he told her that he “liked her butt” and “wanted to see under her jeans" She realizes now that she “did have options” and didn’t really have to send him those photos.

Did Stephens actively solicit sexually explicit images from a vulnerable child? Jane Doe 1 is a young woman, but she is a woman, legal to have sex or marry or have a child with Stephens or someone twice his age. This case was not initiated by a report from Jane Doe 1 or Jane Doe 2 and no one – particularly not the ‘victims’ or their families – are sending victim impact statements to Probation. 

Jane Doe 1 sent Stephens naked photos and videos – and made out in the back of his car – because she liked him or was attracted to him. Stephens asks the Court to please consider the context – the nature and circumstances – of this offense to conclude that, in 2022, the conduct is neither unexpected nor shocks the senses. 

Stephens received and possessed child pornography; sexually explicit photos of a 17-year-old sent to a 23-year-old. He realizes now that conduct is criminalized by federal statute. That’s why he pled guilty.

Nevertheless, he asks that Court to conclude that the nature and circumstances of the offense is not worthy of lengthy incarceration. 

Stephens' crimes were detailed in the plea agreement:

On January 7, 2020, Missouri Children's Division (CD) investigator Charles Richmond contacted Joplin Police Department Det. Wes Massey to report CD received a hotline call regarding Nicholas Lane Stephens, the defendant, a youth minister at a church located in Joplin, Jasper County, Missouri. The hotline caller stated that Stephens was involved in inappropriate relationships with minor females at the church, including 17-year-old Jane Doe.

On January 7, 2020, Det. Massey spoke with Jane Doe. Jane Doe reported that Stephens was a youth minister at her church. Jane Doe stated that Stephens began making comments about her body and how he would like to see "other" parts of her.

Jane Doe stated she sent nude images to Stephens via Snap Chat in December 2019. Stephens also sent Jane Doe several images of his erect penis. Jane Doe said Stephens also sent FaceTime videos of himself masturbating. Jane Doe provided consent to search her Apple iPhone 6.

On January 8, 2020, Det. Massey made contact with Stephens in the parking lot of Stephens' place of employment in Joplin, Missouri. The two spoke outside Stephens' vehicle. Stephens explained that the church had told him he had violated a policy regarding having contact with students. Det. Massey seized Stephens' cellular telephone, an Apple iPhone XR.

On January 14, 2020, Homeland Security Investigation Task Force Officer (TFO) Larry Roller conducted a forensic examination of Stephens' cellular telephone. The examination revealed 12 selfie-type images and one video of Jane Doe, that is a child less than 18 years of age engaged in sexually explicit conduct. There were also numerous messages located between Jane Doe and Stephens.

On February 10, 2020, Federal Bureau of Investigation TFO Charles Root conducted a video-recorded interview with Stephens at the Joplin, Missouri City Jail. Stephens had been arrested on the underlying state charges.

Post-Miranda, Stephens admitted to sending nude images of himself to Jane Doe. He further admitted to receiving nude images of Jane Doe and knowing that she was less than 18 years old.

Stephens' attorney also filed a number of letters supporting his client, including from Stephens' relatives and a former minister.


Anonymous said...

What does this matter? He harmed a child and death is the only cure.

Anonymous said...

It sure seems like the Four Corners has more than it's fair share of deplorables!

Anonymous said...

I wonder how his attorney sleeps at night.

Anonymous said...

Again, if the Courts, Judges, Prosecuting Attorneys, Jurors - or anyone else allows a Sexual Predator or Criminal to get off on such a Lame Defense or Excuse – then our Justice System is Total Screwed Up - - and we should hold all of them Accountable for allowing Criminals back on the Streets to Re-Offend again and again.

Let’s Vote in Judges and Prosecuting Attorneys that Represent and Serve the People – Not the Criminals or the Defense Attorneys that Donate to these Judges or Prosecuting Attorneys Political Campaigns – If you are not aware of this – Please become informed - - We need to Hold these Elected Officials Accountable for their Actions…

Anonymous said...

Can I get an Amen! We must fire the elected officials that cater to the thugs, how about catering to us tax paying people that cause no trouble

Anonymous said...

This article misses the point. This is what this blog should have been about - a warning to your 22 year old son, grandson, nephew, or friend. Under the laws of the United States and the State of Missouri, your 22-year old can marry a 17-year old and have sex with her to their hearts delight. It is perfectly legal. But if that same 22-year old suggests that his sweetheart send him a naked photo and she does, he faces 168 months in prison for receipt of child pornography. That’s right. Even though his 17-year old lover is considered an adult under the law, and can legally have sex with your 22-year old, he faces 14 years in prison for receipt of his lover’s naughty photos. I don’t really care what your response is to that, and I won’t be reading them anyway. But if you care about your son, tell him that he’s allowed to get naked but please don’t record any photos of it. You’ve been warned.

Anonymous said...

This is what this blog should have been about


That's what your blog can be about!

Get after it.

It's easy.

Also you could blog about warning your 22 year old son not to be 'dipping his wick in the company ink' especially not if he's a minister under almost any circumstances.

Or a teacher. Or a doctor. Or a therapist. Or a masseuse.

Anonymous said...

4:42 is right. He could lawfully have as much sex with her as 17 is the age of consent in Missouri. Even perverted orgy sex. But if he simply has a picture of her naked, then this is "child porn."

Seems like the American KGB / Gestapo is arresting young men under any pretext, charging that they are "sexual predators" and send them to prison for the rest of their lives or ruin them from having a relationship leading to children.

These police and this judge should be put into prison for the rest of their lives or hunted down by those they victimized under color of "law."

The rest of the commenters show why witch-hunting was such a sport in medieval times. Back then they would form mobs to kill the witches. Then the dopers. Now the child pornsters of 17 year old females.

Anonymous said...

Some of these comments almost make a person wonder if some of the convicted sex offender's supporters might be happier if the convicted sex offender hadn't been convicted of a sex offense.

Anonymous said...

What could be the reason for so much church connected sex offending in the 4 Corners?

Too many churches?

Too many churches with too many sex offenders?

Too many sex offenders committing too many sex offenses in too many churches?

Or could it be there are too many enablers and denying family members of the sex offenders in too many churches?