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Cassadaga man pleads guilty in sex-assault case

MAYVILLE — A Cassadaga man charged with allegedly having sexual contact with a 3-year-old child has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge shortly before his case was set to go to trial.

A court clerk confirmed Friday that 35-year-old Steven C. Morris Jr. pleaded guilty to a charge of felony third-degree criminal sexual act. Morris was facing charges of first-degree criminal sexual act and predatory sexual assault against a child for an incident that took place in April 2017.

Specific details regarding the incident have not been made public.

Jury selection had been ongoing in Chautauqua County Court when the guilty plea was announced. Morris, who has been in Chautauqua County Jail on $150,000 bail since being booked in June 2017, will be sentenced on the lone charge March 23.

The Cassadaga man was represented by Public Defender Ned Barone.

District Attorney Patrick Swanson said he was pleased with the outcome, noting the age of the victim and the “difficult circumstances surrounding the case.”

“This would have been extremely difficult on the victim to have to come into a county court,” Swanson said. “Marilyn Fiore-Lehman (second assistant district attorney) handled this case very well. To have (Morris) plead guilty to a felony, we’re very pleased with the outcome.”

Morris’ case was sent back to Chautauqua County Court after the Fourth Department Appellate Court of Appeals ruled in June of 2019 that some of his statements shouldn’t have been suppressed.

County Court Judge David Foley previously granted a motion to suppress some of Morris’ statements. That order was reversed by the Fourth Department Appellate Court of Appeals and the case had been sent back to Chautauqua County for further proceedings on the indictment.

Swanson argued the county’s case in front of the appellate justices.

“We agree with the People that County Court erred in suppressing defendant’s oral statements made to the mother of the alleged victim during a controlled telephone call that was recorded by the police,” the justices wrote. “Although it is undisputed that the mother was acting as an agent of the police when she made the controlled call, we conclude that the mother ‘did not make a threat (or a promise) that would create a substantial risk that defendant might falsely incriminate himself.’ We further conclude that the controlled call did not constitute an unconstitutionally coercive police tactic; nor were the tactics employed by the mother during the call unconstitutionally coercive.”

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