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New York woman accused of abusing kidnapped Amish girls pleads guilty to child pornography counts

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ALBANY, New York — A woman accused of helping kidnap and sexually abusing two Amish girls pleaded guilty Thursday to 10 charges of making child pornography with them and other victims.

Nicole Vaisey and boyfriend Stephen Howells were charged last year by federal prosecutors with coercing and sexually exploiting the Amish girls and some other children. Howells pleaded guilty last week to 21 charges.

Vaisey's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 25. The Amish girls, then 7 and 11, were abducted Aug. 13 from their family's roadside farm stand. They were released the next day.

"She is herself a victim," defense attorney Bradford Riendeau said. She decided to plead guilty at a pretrial conference Thursday where the mother of one child victim was in court, he said.

Vaisey mainly videotaped Howells sexually abusing the children, who were drugged, Riendeau said. "I think his goal was to make them unaware," he said.

Prosecutors filed a motion this week intended to prohibit Vaisey from presenting a defense that she only acted under duress in a "master/slave" relationship with Howells, though they acknowledging that could be raised as a mitigating factor at sentencing.

She told investigators she met Howells through the social networking site Fetlife and signed a "Service Agreement" to grant Howells "full use and ownership of (her) body, spirit, mind," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Fletcher wrote. However, the agreement also specified her right to leave that servitude.

The videos found by investigators showed no weapons, and Vaisey never appeared frightened, according to prosecutors. She drove the car into which Howells pushed the Amish girls, lured by the chance to pet Vaisey's dog inside, and Vaisey drove them all to the house she and Howells shared and helped bring them inside. The 25-year-old then drove to her sister's house to eat and made excuses about why Howells couldn't join them.

"Even at this point, with every opportunity to escape, to end the conspiracy, to rescue these children, Vaisey instead continued in her crimes," Fletcher wrote. "As such, she cannot avail herself of a duress defense."

To make that defense, Riendeau said, under the law he would have had to virtually prove his client had a gun against her head and no chance to escape. His first concern was Vaisey's well-being and mental health, and the court proceedings and attempt to raise that defense would have been lengthy and difficult, he said.

Also Thursday, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain said Vaisey and Howells will plead guilty in state court to two counts of second-degree kidnapping. Each will be sentenced to the maximum of 25 years in prison as a condition of the plea, Rain said.

"I'm just delighted that the kids don't have to come in and testify," she said.

According to federal authorities, Howells sexually abused six children from December 2012 to August 2014 on 16 specific dates, using drugs to sedate them.

U.S. District Judge Glenn Suddaby is scheduled to sentence the 39-year-old Howells on Sept. 18. He faces 15 to 30 years in prison on many of the charges, which can be consecutive.

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