News Feature

Ellsworth
Web exclusive, March 7, 2019
Orland man pleads guilty in Deer Isle rape case

Van Stevens

A court bailiff leads Van Stevens, left, out of the Hancock County Unified Court, after presiding Judge Robert Murray sentenced him to five years, with all but one year suspended.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

A former bus driver for special needs passengers was sentenced in Hancock County Unified Court March 7 for raping a Deer Isle woman, one of his passengers, on February 27, 2018, on his bus. Van Stevens, 49, of Orland, pled guilty to one Class C count of gross sexual assault and one Class B count of aggravated assault, in a plea arrangement that saw the most serious charge of Class A gross sexual assault dismissed.

Under the plea agreement, Stevens will serve one year in jail and five years of probation.

Stevens was sentenced to three years in jail with all but one year suspended, and two years probation for gross sexual assault. On the count of aggravated assault, he was sentenced to a two-year suspended sentence and three years of probation. The terms of probation will be served consecutively. Stevens must also register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

In agreeing with the terms of the plea agreement, Judge Robert Murray cited three mitigating factors: Stevens having no prior record, that he accepted responsibility, and that he showed remorse.

However, Judge Murray also noted one specific aggravating factor: “The effect your behavior has had on the victim.”

Stevens’ victim spoke in court of the attack’s lasting effects: “You’ve made me feel hurt and scared. Your attack on me has made me have nightmares over and over. I keep thinking I see you behind me wherever I go.”

On the day of the attack, Stevens arranged for the victim to be the last passenger on his bus and didn’t stop his attack despite the victim trying to push him away and telling him to stop, according to evidence in the case file.

“You acted like a friend to all of us on the bus, but that was just an act. You are a bad man,” the victim said. “I can’t change the horrible things you did to me, but I hope you never do it to anyone else again.”

The victim and her family were “satisfied with the period of incarceration, the suspended portion, and the counseling and probation,” Deputy District Attorney Toff Toffolon said in court. “It was a planned event. He groomed her.”

The consecutive, rather than concurrent, terms of probation, which Judge Murray acknowledged as unusual, were warranted to “enhance rehabilitation efforts” and to “provide formal oversight for purposes of protecting society.”

Under the terms of his probation for gross sexual assault, Stevens must undergo counseling and/or psychological treatment, as directed by his probation officer.

Stevens gave mainly one-word answers to the judge’s questions. When asked if, given the evidence, he thought he would likely have been found guilty at a trial, he answered, “Yes, your Honor.”

Stevens was led out of the courtroom for immediate incarceration. He was represented by Ellsworth attorney William Ashe.