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State takes path of least resistance in Wendy Stevens case
A lot of people were left scratching their heads last week when they heard that former Bremerton school board candidate Wendy Stevens made a deal with prosecutors in her first-degree theft case.
Not only will Stevens avoid jail time, she will not have to enter a guilty plea in the case.
Instead, an $8,000 check was cut to the Naval Avenue Early Learning Center PTA, she’ll be dinged $1,500 in court fines, perform 48 hours of community service and have to maintain law-abiding behavior for one year.
Stevens was arrested for forgery and theft in the first degree, but never faced a forgery charge.
She spent a weekend in jail before being released and eventually made the deal with the state.
The prosecutor handling her case says she is the perfect candidate for felony diversion.
I, everyone in our newsroom, and many others disagree.
One big reason for the difference of opinion, of course, is that Stevens was caught stealing $1,000 from a Bellevue Target store several years ago before making her way to Bremerton.
She made a deal in that case, too, ultimately pleading guilty to an attempted theft in the second degree charge, which is only a misdemeanor.
With no felony record, Stevens was eligible for diversion in the Naval Avenue PTA case.
That, though, hardly makes her the “perfect candidate.”
Even though Stevens was eligible for diversion in this case, the state could have also charged her with aggravating circumstances — the fact that she was in a position of authority and trust when the crime occurred — and sought prison time.
I’m not sure that Stevens belongs in prison, but 48 hours of community service for stealing $8,000 from a bunch of Bremerton kids, kids who are among the poorest and most vulnerable in the district, mind you, doesn’t seem like a very good resolution to this case either.
Stevens was also eligible in this case for spending somewhere between 0 and 90 days in jail.
If prosecutors were so intent on making a deal, perhaps they could have worked for a guilty plea with a recommendation to the judge for some reasonable amount of jail time.
Heck, part of that recommendation could even be spent on electronic home monitoring.
They could have even gotten a plea deal that recommended time served.
Any one of those scenarios would involve Stevens standing up and taking responsibility for her actions in open court.
If she wasn’t interested in that, she could have rolled the dice and made the state prove in trial what they were accusing her of.
A friend of mine is the elected prosecutor in Mason County. He routinely charges folks with first-degree theft in cases like this, gets convictions and sends them to prison.
There’s little doubt in my mind that he would have handled Wendy Stevens’ case the same way.
Among the many things that Stevens has to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, perhaps at the top of the list should be the fact that she lives in Bremerton and not Belfair or Shelton.
There are no guarantees in the criminal justice system, for defendants or the state, but Kitsap County prosecutors don’t seem to have ever taken this case very seriously.
They were, in other words, seemingly committed to making a deal that was most favorable to Stevens and not her victims.
They took the path of least resistance at every turn. Despite the evidence.
It’s great that the PTA got its money back so quickly. But, should that, as the prosecutor in this case said, be the biggest factor?
Does being able to cut a check really hold Stevens accountable for her actions?
One hopes that the children at Naval Avenue Early Learning Center are being taught better lessons than that.
Then again, Stevens did earn more than 3,000 votes in this month’s Bremerton school board election.
So, maybe I, and many others, have got it all wrong. Perhaps stealing $8,000 from the PTA isn’t such a big deal, after all.
Kevan Moore is a senior reporter with the Bremerton Patriot and the Central Kitsap Reporter. He has been covering law enforcement and the courts for more than 10 years. He also covers the city of Bremerton.