Judge refuses plea agreement for Durham gymnastics coach facing child sex charges

DURHAM, N.C. — A former Durham gymnastics coach indicted for sex crimes against three young gymnasts has been offered a plea agreement — that comes with a much lighter sentence.

This week, however, a judge refused to accept the agreement as written.

Stephen Maness, the man at the center of this case, once operated Bull City Gymnastics. He has been accused of assaulting three young girls who were enrolled there.

Stephen Maness, Bull City Gymnastics Durham coach, facing criminal charges, suspended from contact by USA Gymnastics

Maness was accused of assaulting one young gymnast over an 8-year period, from 2012 to 2020.

Two other young girls say Maness assaulted them between 2015 and 2019.

All three girls appeared in court this week, fully expecting the case to be over, until the judge decided the plea agreement was not tough enough.

WRAL News tried to talking to the former coach at his home in Chapel Hill, but no one answered the door.

Durham Police originally charged him with three counts of taking indecent liberties and three counts of sexual battery. But a proposed plea agreement would reduce the 6 felonies to 7 misdemeanors, including assault on a child, assaulting a female and misdemeanor child abuse.

Stephen Maness, Bull City Gymnastics Durham gymnastics coach offered plea agreement

The plea includes a 120-day suspended sentence, meaning: No jail time, 5 years of supervised probation, A ban from gymnastics facilities and supervising children under 18, A no contact order with the victims or their families. The judge rejected the proposal, requesting Maness also be required to attend sex offender counseling.

After an investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, Maness was deemed “ineligible” to be a member of USA Gymnastics.

Stephen Maness, Bull City Gymnastics Durham gymnastics coach arrested on indecent liberties charges

That’s welcome news to the victims and their families who say their goal from the beginning was to protect other young girls from what they endured. Maness ran not only Bull City Gymnastics, but also Chapel Hill Gymnastics. Maness is expected to be back in court early next month, so he could learn his ultimate sentence in just a few weeks.