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Plea deal offered NY couple in kidnapping of 2 Amish girls; would spare girls from testifying

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ALBANY, New York — A couple accused of kidnapping two Amish girls from a northern New York produce stand and sexually exploiting them has been offered a possible plea agreement that a prosecutor says could settle state and federal cases and would spare the girls and potentially other victims from testifying in court.

Stephen Howells and girlfriend Nicole Vaisey were charged last summer with sexually exploiting the Amish girls and other children. Their federal trial has been reset for July 6 on charges they coerced minors to make pornographic videos. They face kidnapping charges in state court.

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain said Tuesday that the defendants were advised of the strength of the evidence and offered an agreement to plead guilty in both cases. Guilty pleas would mean victims wouldn't have to testify, including others not publicly known, which Rain said is one of her biggest concerns. She declined to disclose the terms offered.

The 7- and 12-year-old Amish girls were abducted Aug. 13 from their family farm roadside stand in rural Oswegatchie, near the Canadian border. The abduction touched off a massive search in the community of about 4,000 people. Authorities say the girls were shackled and sexually abused before being released the next day about 20 miles from home.

Rain said the defendants have not yet responded to the offer. She declined to say how many victims they've identified. "We are still gathering evidence," she said.

The latest federal indictment, based on computer videos taken from the couple's rural home in Hermon, where authorities say the Amish girls were held, listed six victims.

"Everyone is working toward finding a way of resolving this matter," said Vaisey's attorney, Bradford Riendeau. "A trial is one way."

He declined to comment on a report from WWNY television that Howells considered killing the Amish girls and Vaisey convinced him to let them go.

Riendeau has maintained that Howells, then 39, dominated 25-year-old Vaisey in a sort of master-slave relationship. They are charged together in the federal and state cases.

Calls to Howells' attorney, federal public defender Randi Bianco, were not immediately returned.

The couple's house was later bought by a neighbor. It was burned down as a fire department training exercise and the debris cleared.

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