Prosecutors withdraw plea offer, hint at additional victims in Durham gymnastics sex assault case
DURHAM, NC – A man who coached elite gymnastics for 15 years turned himself in to the Durham County Magistrate’s Office on a fourth charge of indecent liberties with a minor at Bull City Gymnastics.
Stephen Maness, 41, was jailed and released December 15 after his lawyer asked a judge to enforce an offer that prosecutors had withdrawn.
While Bull City Gymnastics is still in operation, Maness is listed as “ineligible” by the US Center for Safe-Sport and he is not allowed to train at any gym affiliated with USA Gymnastics.
Our documents claim the abuse happened over several years.
Maness’ defense attorney Melissa Owen said any physical contact at Bull City Gymnastics was not sexually motivated.
“We don’t think it’s an inappropriate touch,” Owen said. “We believe it’s a touch that’s compatible with the sport. It may have been touch that was unwanted, making it an attack, but that’s different than any sexually inappropriate touch.”
Judge Cynthia Sturges either did not accept or declined the offer. Sturges expressed concerns that Maness would not need to be registered as a sex offender as part of the plea deal and referred the decision to another judge.
Since then, prosecutors have completely withdrawn the plea deal.
On December 15, Maness’s attorneys appeared in Durham County Superior Court, asking Judge Michael O’Foghludha to pursue the lawsuit offered in March.
Assistant District Attorney Brooks Stone argued that the lawsuit was never officially accepted and “potential additional victims” have been reported since the last hearing.
Owen argued that her client had already admitted guilt on the lesser charges, which could spoil a potential jury.
“We can’t have the state walk out of a deal where my client held up every single aspect that they promised, and then they try to change the game after the fact,” Owen said. “Extensive steps have been taken to comply with this defense agreement, to enter into this defense agreement and [Maness] has held up his end of the bargain, and the state must be held to its obligations under that plea.”
Tiffany Hambright, whose daughter is one of the accusers, said the families involved wanted Maness to be registered as a sex offender.
“It has been really difficult waiting for a solution – especially for the young victims who trust us as parents and the court system to ensure their offender gets redress for their crimes and that every possible safeguard is put in place to protect the public he’s offending again,” Hambright said. “I’m trying to view any delays in a positive light because it has actually given other victims and those with relevant information the time they needed to be ready to speak up and ultimately significantly strengthened our case.”
After nearly two years, prosecutors hope the case will be settled soon.
“There’s a lot of trauma [and] PTSD. I know that being touched like this will traumatize you and you may find it difficult to find relationships and connect physically with people,” said Abigail Davis, a former gymnast and close friend of the four accusers.
O’Foghludha made no decision as to whether or not to pursue the original offer of litigation. He took the case under deliberation and said he would make an out-of-court decision.