20 years later, sexual assault case resolved
Eagle Staff Writer
Written by:
January 10, 2018
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Stephen J. Manning

More than two decades after being accused of sexually assaulting a young girl in Cranberry Township, a Florida man will spend time in county jail after being sentenced in Butler County Court on Friday.

Stephen J. Manning, 70, of Sarasota was sentenced to eight to 16 months in the Butler County Prison by Judge William Shaffer.

He was also required to register as a sexual offender for his lifetime, ordered to pay court costs, submit a DNA sample and to undergo 60 months’ county probation following the expiration of his parole.

Manning previously pleaded guilty on July 19 to two felony counts of aggravated indecent assault of a person less than 13 years old.

He was initially charged with felony aggravated indecent assault of a child, indecent assault of a person less than 13 years old and corruption of minors after Cranberry Township police filed the counts following a report from a now 31-year-old woman on July 5, 2016, who described a series of assaults that took place over a period of several months in 1996 and 1997, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Charges were later changed to two counts of felony aggravated indecent assault of a person less than 13 years old and misdemeanor indecent assault of a person less than 13 years old and corruption of minors to reflect the laws that were in place at the time the incidents occurred between Oct. 1, 1996, and May 1997.

The remaining charges were dismissed as part of the plea.

Manning was arraigned Aug. 3, 2016. Bail was set at $50,000 unsecured and he was released.

Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Simon asked Shaffer to hand down a state sentence, saying this was a straight plea, with a standard range of eight to 20 months on each charge, and sentencing and concurrency up to the judge’s discretion.

“It is time to pay the piper for what he did,” Simon said. “He has taken many steps to address his issues, but that doesn’t make right what he did. It is time for Mr. Manning to be punished for what he did to this young woman.”

Shaffer said he did not believe a state sentence would serve justice, as Manning is 70 years old, but that he had to “pay this debt to society” for the “heinous acts,” ultimately sentencing him to county jail.

Dr. Tracy Veri, who supervises sexual offenders for the Butler County Adult Probation Office, said Manning has been “extremely” cooperative and “very” forthcoming regarding the incidents and his “accountability and empathy toward the victim.”

“Based on science and research, he is an extremely low category to reoffend both generally and sexually,” she said.

The affidavit states that the assaults occurred at the woman’s former address on Village Drive, Cranberry Township, when she was between 11 and 12 years old.

She said Manning between 30 and 40 times sexually assaulted her late at night in her room when she would pretend to be sleeping.

The woman reported disclosing the assaults to her mother on May 9, 1997, and Manning was removed from the home after admitting the assaults, the document states.

On May 20, 1997, Manning reported himself to ChildLine, the document states. The girl was then interviewed by the Butler County Children and Youth Services.

On June 12, 1997, Manning was interviewed by police and reported that he began assaulting the girl in the fall months of 1996, between 20 to 30 times in his bed and the girl’s bed.

He admitted to the assaults, but denied any penetration, the document states. He also reported believing the girl was sleeping when he committed the assaults.

Criminal prosecution was not initiated at that time due to the girl’s mother declining to cooperate further, the document states.

Manning’s attorney, John Haller Jr., said he represented Manning in 1997, and the decision to not move forward with charges was entirely up to the district attorney at the time.

“When this event again came to light in 2016, my client informed me that we would not defend against it and would work toward entering a plea,” he said.

Simon said “this is a confused assertion,” stating that at the time in 1997 the woman’s mother, “would not allow the charges to proceed.”

“It was not her (the victim’s) decision to not move forward initially,” he said. However, once the woman became an adult she decided to move forward with the charges herself, he said,

The woman spoke during the proceeding saying she still feels the “profound effects” of the assaults while “trying to carry on with my normal life” but that “anger and agony have continued into my adult years.”

She said the incidents have led to mental breakdowns and sleepless nights recalling the assaults.

“I was always afraid of what would happen at night,” she said.

However, she said time has given her strength. saying “it has taken me 20 years to muster the courage to stand before this court.”

“It is encouraging to see I’m not the only woman who is finding their voice in 2017,” she said.

Manning took responsibility for his actions, saying “over 20 years ago I’m the one who reported this matter to authorities.”

“I’ve taken responsibility and never denied my actions,” he said. “I would literally give my life to go back and undo my actions, but I know I can’t unring that bell, I just can’t undo the damage.”