|Plea Proposed in Sex Abuse Case
By Keith Kinnaird
Bonner County Daily Bee
October 26, 2008
SANDPOINT - A plea agreement is pending in the case of a Montana man accused of fondling a preteen girl while he was serving as a pastor at Priest Lake several years ago.
Stephen D. Bicknell pleaded guilty earlier this month to a reduced charge of aggravated battery as part of a plea agreement. His sentencing is set for Nov. 20 in 1st District Court.
The defense and the state asked District Judge Steve Verby to bind himself to the sentencing recommendations without the defendant undergoing a psychosexual evaluation.
Bicknell pleaded guilty to the amended charge on Oct. 10, but Verby declined to guarantee he would adopt the agreement without reviewing the results of a presentence investigation or a psychosexual evaluation, which assesses a defendant's sexual behaviors and risk of re-offending.
Bicknell, a 57-year-old who now lives in Libby, touched the girl's breasts when she was between the ages of nine and 10, according to charging papers.
The alleged abuse occurred between 2005 and 2006.
Bicknell is a former pastor of Priest Lake Community Church.
The inappropriate contact came to light earlier this year, when the girl reported it to her mother.
Bonner County Prosecutor Phil Robinson and defense attorney Clark Peterson struck a plea agreement which downgraded the charge. The agreement proposes a suspended prison sentence and up to 60 days in jail. The defense can recommend a lesser jail sentence and a withheld judgment, which would allow the charge to be removed from Bicknell's record upon completion of probation.
Under the terms of the agreement, Bicknell would not have to register as a sex offender, court records show.
If the court declines to bind itself to the pact, Bicknell can withdraw his plea. The state would then be free to reinstate the sex abuse charge.
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