CRESTVIEW — Marlynn Stillions, an Okaloosa County special education teacher sent to prison for abusing an autistic child in her care, will appear in court Thursday for a review of Circuit Judge Michael Flowers’ decision to deny bond pending an appeal of her conviction.
Stillions was convicted Oct. 18, 2018, on three counts of felony child abuse. Prosecutors contended that on three occasions she had harmed 4-year-old Noah Perillo, an autistic student in her care at Kenwood Elementary School.
After listening to two hours of impassioned pleas for leniency from Stillions’ family and friends at a December sentencing hearing, Flowers ordered her to serve seven years in prison and remanded her to state custody.
The judge also rejected a plea from Stillions’ attorney to allow her to remain free on bond pending an appeal.
Flowers cited Stillions seeming lack of remorse for what she’d done as a major reason for the stiff sentence. He said she had attempted to convince him in pre-sentencing correspondence that others, be it fellow educators or ‘someone from the top’ of the School District hierarchy, should take the blame for her actions.
“To suggest that to the court is to say testimony of remorse is to be viewed with a jaundiced eye,” Flowers said.
Glenn Swiatek, the attorney handling Stillions’ appeal, filed a motion with the First District Court of Appeals to have the decision to revoke his client’s bond revisited. The Court of Appeals granted his motion in May.
Swiatek has asked the court to set a bond of $5,000. He said the size of the bond is left to the judge’s discretion, but he is confident Flowers will set a bond of some amount at Thursday’s hearing.
“The court doesn’t have to consider, and shouldn’t consider, whether she is guilty or whether she has a winnable appeal,” he said.
A judge is bound to take into consideration whether there are “good, solid arguments” to justify setting a bond and whether Stillions, if freed, could be considered a flight risk, Swiatek said.
Documents he has filed with the court state that Stillions already has been determined not to be a flight risk, and her otherwise clean criminal record, 30 years of service with the School District and ties to the community make her a good candidate for a bond.
The State Attorney's Office will oppose Stillions the request, according to Bill Bishop, the chief assistant state attorney in Okaloosa County.
"We do not believe there are sufficient grounds for her to be allowed to be released," Bishop said.
In order for an appellate bond to be issued, the appealing party must meet a standard by raising issues that are "fairly debatable," Bishop said.
"We will argue the issues raised are not fairly debatable. The law is clear the issues are not debatable. We do not feel the issues are well taken," he said.
If Flowers does set a bond Thursday, Stillions could be released from custody that day and remain free at least until her appeal is decided. Swiatek said the three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals could hand down a verdict in the appeal as early as late October.