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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Mitchell faces federal charges

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A federal grand jury handed down five indictments Dec. 5 charging Steven D. Mitchell, 33, with transporting minors across the state line for sexual intent, witness tampering and engaging in criminal sexual activity.

Mitchell was scheduled to stand trial Oct. 1 on 12 federal indictments but the trial was cancelled after Mitchell appealed the charges. Mitchell was released into the custody of his wife and placed on house arrest after his attorney presented a petition signed by 75 Pineville and Calico Rock residents stating they were willing to monitor Mitchell and be held accountable for his actions.

The superseding indictment moots the appeal process and takes the place of the April 2007 indictment. A judge has given Mitchell permission to spend the holidays at home with his family, but he will still have to appear before a judge this month for formal arraignment.

The new indictments claim that Mitchell engaged in sexual activity with students who were members of Melbourne's Future Farmers of America chapter. Mitchell was a teacher, assistant principle and the FFA sponsor for the Melbourne School District when the alleged violations took place.

The indictment said Mitchell knowingly transported persons under the age of 18 years across state lines, with the intent to engage individuals in sexual activity. Count one states this occurred on a trip to San Antonio, Texas. Where Mitchell was a chaperone for the FFA group. Mitchell told a student if he disclosed the criminal activity, Mitchell would make sure that everyone knew the student had exposed his genitalia to Mitchell and others.

Other counts charge Mitchell with several criminal sexual activities while on trips to Kentucky, Georgia and Texas. Sexual activity was initiated under Mitchell's endorsement that it was "the biggest form of trust."

In 1998 FFA members and Mitchell created the Ambassador Tour trips program. The program was designed to reward students for their hard work, as well as encourage other students to join the FFA. From 1998 to 2004 the program sponsored trips to Indianapolis, Chicago, Washington D.C., Orlando, San Antonio and Atlanta.

In 2004 Mitchell allegedly recruited a student to attend the San Francisco Ambassador Tour trip, scheduled for June of that year, by telling the student he could attend if he would expose his genitalia. The student complied and his name appeared on the list of students who qualified for the San Francisco Ambassador Tour Trip.

The husband and father of two was charged June 11, 2004, with two counts of first degree sexual assault, two counts of second degree sexual assault, solicitation to commit sexual indecency with a child, five counts of indecent exposure, and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Mitchell was accused of encouraging male students to commit sex acts and expose their genitalia by participating in "size contests" while he chaperoned school sponsored FFA trips.

Attorneys, Gray Dellinger, Jack Lassiter and Prosecuting Attorney Don McSpadden reached a plea agreement in which Mitchell pleaded guilty to two felony counts of sexual assault, was ordered to register as a sex offender, attend counseling for pedophiles and not come in contact with his victims.

A conviction on all counts prior to the plea agreement could have carried a prison sentence of 96 years and a fine of up to $106,000. Izard County Circuit Court Judge Tim Weaver sentenced Mitchell to five years probation on Aug. 23, 2005.

One victim's mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, "He (Mitchell) didn't get what he deserved, but he had to admit to what he did in front of his wife, parents, and everybody else. I'm glad his life will never be the same, just like the kids he hurt."

newsopinion@yahoo.com



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