Serial peeper: Man who inspired 3x law arrested again

The name of James Gilbert Stearn may not be widely known, but his Charlottesville activities are the reason for a Virginia law that raised the penalty for a third Peeping Tom offense from misdemeanor to felony.

Stearn's lengthy history of peeping arrests and indecent exposure charges date back at least to 1998, when he was arrested for lurking in the woods behind a UVA dorm and videotaping coeds as they undressed, according to a 2002 Washington Times article on the legislation to stiffen the penalties for serial peepers.

Sources familiar with the case say he fell out of a tree while videotaping.

As a misdemeanor, a peeping conviction carries a maximum sentence of 12 months. A bill carried by Delegate Rob Bell in 2006 made the third strike a felony with a five-year maximum.

Stearn, 49, has already served two-and-a-half years in prison under the new law, and on July 26, he was arrested again at his Leonard Street residence in the Belmont neighborhood. The arrest stems from a July 7 incident in which he was allegedly peering into an occupied building.

"Officers responded to John Street to a report of a prowler," says Charlottesville Police Lieutenant Ronnie Roberts.

The area around the university appears to be a favorite of Stearn, who was arrested on University Way in 1999 for indecent exposure, according to the Cavalier Daily. While police were unable to provide the total number of times Stearn has been arrested for peeping, available court records indicate it's at least 12, with other arrests for indecent exposure and trespassing.

In 2002, prosecutor Ron Huber and Charlottesville detective Wendy Lewis asked Delegate Bell to carry the bill that makes the third peep a felony. While Huber, now with the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment and Lewis did not respond to phone calls from the Hook, Bell spoke recently to a reporter.

"With someone like him, it's clear he's a repeat offender," says Bell, reiterating the need for jail. "There's no other way to make him stop."

"There are very few armed robbers over 30," says Bell. "Sexual offenders don't age out."

Bell's bill requires a felony peeper to register with the state's sex offender registry, but Stearn does not appear on that database. And while peeping seems rare and possibly harmless, many experts believe it can leads to more serious offenses, like rape.

"It's scary to the people looked at and to the neighbors," says Bell. Jailing the peepers, says Bell, "is the only thing left for them."

Jeffrey Fracher, a psychologist who specializes in sexual offenders, thinks the odds are low Stearn would escalate to hands-on activities.

"That said, it's still an enormous violation to be peeped on," says Fracher. "People are traumatized having someone look in their windows. It's not a victimless crime."

It is possible to treat voyeurs and exhibitionists who are motivated to change their behavior, according to Fracher. "Someone who is not motivated for treatment, who has refused or is uncooperative, all we can do is lock them up," he says.

Stearn was so well known by police that any time a peeping incident was reported, investigators would check to see whether he was incarcerated, says Fracher.

Stearn is being held without bail, and he's scheduled to appear in court August 25.

Updated August 1 with comments from Jeffrey Fracher.


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Tell those girls to pull down their shades...James told me the other day it isn't his fault, he just can't help but look.

"There are very few armed robbers over 30," says Bell. "Sexual offenders don't age out." Has it occurred to anyone that this guy is simply batsh*t? crazy? After being arrested innumerable times for this act, and NOT escalating, I wouldn't rule "NUTS" out.
It's not that I think that outside my daughter's window is where I want to see him, but I'm a little skeptical about him "changing" in a penitentiary. And at what cost? Repeating the "outside my daughter's window" preface, I ask what's less expensive: some form of outpatient therapy/house arrest/ankle bracelet or 1826.25 days in the state's care? Not knocking politicians but it's damn easy to be tough on crime and it's a real vote getter, but when in this day and age we should learn to separate rhetoric from the reality of the situation. Have we exempted the homeowner having a midnight tinkle inside his fenced yard from sex offender status yet? This last observation is not off topic, by the way..

If any girl disrobes, walks around naked, has sexual relations with whoever, or pleases herself with the blinds or curtains open after dark, it should not be a crime to look. Unless of course the observer is on their property with his nose pressed up against the glass! :)

Once upon a time, a friend of mine had a house in the city where his rear sliding doors and patio were, because of the lay of the land, slightly elevated above the rear windows of a row of duplexes where UVA girls historically rented at the time. While sitting on his rear patio eating and drinking wine/beer, and later while playing cards, the sites and adventures were absolutely unbelievable. And the girls made no effort whatsoever to close their blinds or curtains. I'm sure 95% of the male population would have looked. And the other 5% that wouldn't look most likely did not favor the female variety in the first place.

Statistics do show that most sex offenders do age out. However, Mr Stearn clearly has an obsession. This is not about sex its a compulsion.

i like to get peeped at

The impression I have is that peepers generally go onto the property where they do their peeping. Its not a case of someone walking down a sidewalk and merely glancing at a house where there is an unshaded window.
Peeping Toms and those who expose themselves often escalate their behavior to more serious crimes.
Its not merely that they want to look at nude or scantily- dressed bodies. If so, all they'd have to do is surf adult sites on the Internet.. Or visit a clothes-optional beach.
Rather it is a desire to frighten, to violate,exercise power. A peeping Tom is saying I can look at you even without your consent, if I chose to I could do more.

Good points, HollowBoy. Peepers want to look at the people who don't want to be looked at, the ones who didn't ask for it and are therefore being violated in some way. Not the strippers, porn stars and all around exhibitionists of the world going "look at me! look at me!"

Frank P makes some good points.

GSOE, I think everyone looks. And college kids are particularly naive about not closing their blinds--I shudder to think what people could have seen looking in my dorm room.

I remember a guy my friends and I called "Naked Man" who used to wander around naked in his apartment (in a complex long since torn down) on 15th St. behind the Corner. We all laughed and tried to catch a glimpse when we walked by--but we never hung out and waited for the guy to walk by the window.

Living in a big city offers many opportunities for random sightings of titillating behavior. I read somewhere that more telescopes are sold in NYC than any other city--but it's been almost impossible to see any stars in the night sky there for decades. What do you suppose everyone is using those telescopes for? :)

The theory that peeping often leads to criminal acts such as rape does not hold water in this case as Mr Stearn the veteran peeper has not progressed .He may just as well be contemplating robbery or fancy himself as some sort of bird watcher . Anyway whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty . Seems the law was upgraded on false prejudice .It is against all foundatins of modern law to jail someone on suspicion they might possibly commit a certain crime . They couldn't lock up anyone in jail for such reasons that had recourse to the means of defending their human rights . The law is designed to discriminate against the black sheep . Putting him on a sex offenders list is not right either . The law is just making a wild eyed assumption that his motivation is sexual but one can't discern anything or act by him of a sexual nature . Jail does not seem appropriate in an obvious case of mental derangement . His body grew to an adult but his mind is still back in the single digets somewhere and is warped .Jail is not the correct place if it is deemed he needs institutionalized . Some sort of rehab facility is where he should be placed if police,family,friends,neighbours,and social workers etc can't stop him from looking and showing too much skin .

P.S. It is ironic that the law was upgraded to a felony conviction on repeat convction based on this person's actions as it was deemed that repeated peeping leads to rape .This fellow didn't progress so the law was changed on a false assumption . Something is seriously wrong here and the law should be challenged on his behalf as not being constitutional .

If this guy was looking at your mom, daughter or wife would it be a crime then? This is a shame, I mean if a woman or a man is showing off 95% of people are going to look GasBags right but forgetting to close your blinds isn't an invitation. A young woman looks out her window and there's this joker looking back at her is going to cause emotional issues in most cases, this is a crime and this man should be punished.

Hollow Boy ="Rather it is a desire to frighten, to violate,exercise power. A peeping Tom is saying I can look at you even without your consent, if I chose to I could do more." Hit the nail right on the head! Sex crimes (from my research) are about power and control of the victim.

Frank Speaker: "The theory that peeping often leads to criminal acts such as rape does not hold water in this case as Mr Stearn the veteran peeper has not progressed " So very true!! Would love to be the analyst on the other end of this would be very interesting to find out WHY he never escalated past the peeking tom stage.

Not sure about Virginia, but it is a crime in some States for a male to pleasure themselves with the shades open- it's called exposure, but it is not a crime for a female to do the same.

Perhaps the male gets reported and female doesn't- hum.................

Harry -- So a male and female neighbour could watch each other "please themselfs" through each other's open windows and the legal rambifications would be ? No breach of the law by the female but the male could be charged with exposure plus peeping .I have never heard of any charges against peeping Patricia's . It could be that is due to the fact women are very cleverly sly in their peeping . They don't get in trouble for it and guys have to clue in or miss out LOL .

@ Frank Speaker

"I have never heard of any charges against peeping Patricia's"

Maybe because women aren't prone to that pathology? Not saying there's never been one in the history of the world, but I don't think I've ever once heard of a woman creeping around, peeping in windows, rubbing one out in public the way you hear about guys. But I guess it's happened somewhere. :D

However, we've all read or heard endless tales of female stalkers, which is a more focused form of that, but it seems to be a different type of pathology. Being obsessed with a single person (or family) versus creeping around picking indiscriminate people to voyeuristically intrude upon.

Frank Speaker- probably so...............just an observation, or "peep", as it may be.....