CRESTVIEW — Former Okaloosa County special education teacher Marlynn Stillions' request to be released on bond while the appeal of her seven-year sentence for child abuse is pending was denied Thursday.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Flowers sat through about 90 minutes of testimony and arguments for and against setting a bond for Stillions, but didn’t hesitate to rule once all of the evidence had been presented.
“This well-drafted motion to set bond is respectfully denied,” Flowers said.
Glenn Swiatek, Stillions' attorney, had asked the judge to consider setting a bond while the First District Court of Appeals pondered four “fairly debatable” possible errors committed by the prosecution or the court during his client’s trial.
Any errors committed could ultimately lead to Stillions' guilty verdict being overturned.
“It cannot be clearer to this court that there are no fairly debatable issues,” said Flowers, who had presided over Stillions’ criminal trial in October and sentenced her two months later. “Quite frankly, there are no issues that are debatable at all.”
Eddie Perillo was the only witness called by Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Lieb to testify on the state’s behalf against Stillions receiving a bond. He is the father of Noah Perillo, who was the 4-year-old, non-verbal autistic child Stillions was convicted of physically harming on three occasions at Kenwood Elementary School during the 2015-16 school year.
Perillo read a statement in which he questioned the former educator’s right to even ask for a bond while her appeal is pending. He said her incarceration “keeps victims like my son Noah safe from harm.”
The most compelling testimony, and evidence, was presented while Stillions’ husband, Ed Stillions, was on the stand. He and three other defense witnesses testified that Marlynn Stillions did not present a flight risk.
Pressed under cross-examination by Lieb, however, Ed Stillions said he couldn’t recall specific details of conversations he and his wife had while she was incarcerated in which she expressed discontent with the legal system. At one point he responded to an inquiry by saying “that’s a stupid question.”
Lieb put Ed Stillions back on the stand as a rebuttal witness and played for the court a taped conversation he and his wife had had the day before the bond hearing. During the course of the 12-minute discussion the pair are heard discussing “a crooked judge who favors the media” and questioning the motives of attorneys on both sides of the case.
Ed Stillions said during the taped phone conversation that witnesses called on behalf of Marlynn Stillions should “say whatever we gotta say to get you out.” Lieb pounced on that statement to call into question testimony previously provided on behalf of Marlynn Stilllions in which she was framed as a person of integrity who would not flee.
Flowers said in ruling against issuing a bond that he also was convinced from the conversation between the Stillionses that Ed Stillions could not be trusted as a witness.
“I believe Mr. Stillions being willing to say anything to free his wife today leads me to question his believability,” Flowers said.
The Court of Appeals could rule in the Stillions case as early as October.
The investigation and subsequent arrest of Marlynn Stillions in September of 2017 helped crack open a wider Okaloosa County School District scandal that eventually implicated educators, administrators and ultimately then-School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. Jackson was suspended from office in January of this year.
She was reinstated to her position Wednesday long enough to allow her to turn in her resignation.