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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended April 16, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
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Sent on Mormon-News: 19Apr00

Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Convicted Sex Offender Used LDS Church To Exploit Victims
Seattle WA Times 14Apr00 D2
By Nancy Montgomery: Seattle Times Snohomish County bureau

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, WASHINGTON -- Fifty-six-year-old Matthew Stephen of Edmonds, Snohomish County Washington, was recently convicted of the third degree rape of a child and will receive sentencing on May 31. The Superior Court jury took only 90 minutes to find the handyman guilty of sexually exploiting a 15-year-old boy he'd met at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Michael Held, the Snohomish County deputy prosecutor has requested the maximum five year sentence that is allowed by law. "I think there's a difference in befriending an individual in the guise of having God in common rather than having, say, basketball in common," Held said. "I think it is more exploitive."

Stephen's case took several twists and turns during the 18 months since prosecutors filed charges. Stephen was initially charged with two counts of having sex with minors and one count of possessing childhood pornography. One of the teens, first to accuse him, ran away and has not been seen since. Pornography charges were dropped when an expert said that it would be difficult to prove the ages of those in the pornographic material. It was the second youth, now 17, that Stephen was convicting of sexually exploiting.

During the trial, Judge Larry McKeeman allowed a third victim to testify. He had gone to police with accusations against Stephen when he was 12-years-old, but the statute of limitations had run out. Unlike most testimony about prior offenses, the judge ruled his testimony admissible because, "it showed a common scheme or plan." Stephen's lawyer, Karen Halverson, argued that the testimony should not be allowed due to an accusation against Stephen of unreasonable blame.

Deputy prosecutor Held, said that Stephen "groomed" the unsuspecting youths for rape by befriending them, taking them along on appliance-repair jobs and paying them. It was after he had gained their confidence and trust that he began to talk about sex. He would soon invite them to his dimly lit home, filled with dozens of televisions, video games, police scanners and candy. Each victim recounted the same occurrence of events, ending with Stephen having sex with them.

When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Edmonds called the teens mother to inform her that Stephen had been arrested on suspicion of raping another youth, who had run away from a halfway house, the family called the police. The mother had been puzzled by her son's recent psychological distress. He had spent a lot of time with Stephen. When she confronted her son, he admitted what had happened to him.

Local authorities believe Stephen, who was convicted of indecent liberties in King County in 1982, had other teenage victims in Edmonds but none other came forward. The standard sentencing range is 31 to 4l months in prison. Deputy prosecutor Held will seek the maximum sentence of five years.


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