Lester B. Joy, a 24 year old convicted and registered sex offender from New Jersey, is believed to have picked up Stephanie Caruso, 16, who was missing from her Southampton home January 30, 2005.  Footprints in the snow were one of the only clues her parents had about the missing teen's whereabouts.  They led from beneath her open bedroom window, past the above-ground pool, under a fallen tree, to the road behind the house.  There, they double over each other, back and forth, as if she paced before getting into a car.  Joy, whom Stephanie met on the Internet, was released from prison in September 2004 and is rated a sex offender and has a criminal record stretching into his juvenile years.  It is believed that Stephanie met Joy, of Morristown, on the Internet in December 2004.  Their relationship was solidified through cell phone chats.  She ran up a $1,500 bill before her parents took away the phone.  Joy told her he was 18.

Stephanie's parents and the Suffolk district attorney criticized Southampton Town police, saying they mishandled the case by leaking information to the local newspaper.  The parents said they first learned from an article in the Southampton Press that their daughter is likely in Texas, heading over the border to marry Joy.  The parents faulted town police for botching the investigation by possibly tipping off Stephanie and Joy.  Meanwhile, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said revealing so much information was ill advised.  The parents say they wanted Southampton Town police to drop the case and turn it over to the Suffolk District Attorney's Office.  The article quoted Southampton Town Police Lt. John James.  The article said Stephanie wasn't abducted as detectives originally believed.  Instead, police said, she and Joy were saving for weeks, with the goal of traveling to Mexico.  In a statement, Spota said, The unfortunate description of Miss Caruso's disappearance by local police as a 'well-planned trip' as a prelude to marriage belies the true nature of these events, that a 16 year old girl is traveling across the country with a convicted sex offender on parole.  Let's remember, that under the law, Stephanie Caruso is a minor incapable of consent.  

Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, said James' comments to the Southampton Press makes it look like Caruso knew she was leaving with a sex offender.  This police department is so incompetent that they're revictimizing Stephanie, she said.  Ahearn and Stephanie's parents met with Spota to ask him to take the case.  Ahearn, who was representing the family, said the meeting went well and we have hope that he will take the lead in this investigation to help bring Stephanie home.  

Stephanie's mom had waited weeks for the call, and it came on February 16, 2005, just after 2 p.m.  Stephanie was alive and ready to come home.  She didn't quite know where she was, the girl told her mother, but it was somewhere in Texas.  And she'd had enough of running.  Police found the girl in El Paso just blocks from the Mexican border.  Joy was arrested in Texas February 17 after Mexican police nabbed him just over the border.  The arrest came one day after Stephanie slipped away from Joy in Juarez, Mexico, and walked several blocks over the border to El Paso.  

In sporadic moments, Stephanie worked her hands as if manipulating an imaginary Rubik's Cube to explain what Joy did to her head during the two weeks she was on the run with him.  I don't know how he did this to me, she said, according to her mother, Christine Kunz.  She said, 'He just manipulated me,' her stepfather Eric Kunz said.  

Joy was expected to be taken to New Jersey, where is wanted for violating parole, and could then face charges in New York.  Federal charges also are possible.  

A grand jury convened on Long Island on February 18 to consider charges against Joy.  The Suffolk grand jury may be asked to bring third-degree statutory rape and other charges against Joy.  He was in jail in Texas, he was turned over to US police by Mexican authorities.  

Joy has already served three years in jail for having sex with an underage girl.  When he was released in September 2004, he was placed on community service for life.  Once back in New Jersey, he faces 4 1/2 to nine years in jail for violating the conditions of his release in three ways, by leaving the state without permission, absconding and contact with a minor.  

On July 29, Joy was charged with raping and sodomizing the teen.  He was arraigned in Riverhead court on a nine-count indictment, which includes charges of third degree rape, endangering the welfare of a child, criminal sexual act and disseminating indecent material to a minor.  The latter charge, stemming from alleged explicit Internet chats with the girl, is a felony punishable by up to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison.

On January 4, 2006, Joy admitted in court that he climbed through the girl's window and raped and sodomized her.  He pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court in Riverhead to his entire nine-count indictment.  In exchange for his plea, Justice Robert W. Doyle promised to sentence him to no more than 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison and was on January 30.

The girl confonted Joy in the courtroom and chided him for stealing her innocence when he coaxed her into having sex with him and taking her to the Mexican border.  I used to be able to trust people, but now I can't, the girl

said.  I feel no amount of jail time will give back what I lost....I will be scarred for life after what he did to me.

(New York)