MOUNT VERNON — A new visiting judge has been assigned to the Thatcher/Bailey case by the Supreme Court of Ohio. The Honorable James Wallace Luse has been assigned to hear the case after the first visiting judge, Stuart K. Miller, recused himself from the case after accepting the guilty pleas of Samuel Thatcher and Donald Bailey in a case allegedly involving sexual assault. The guilty pleas were the result of a plea bargain to misdemeanor charges of contributing to the unruliness/delinquency of a minor by special prosecutor Brenda S. Leikala.
Leikala and judges Miller and Luse were assigned to the case because Thatcher is the son of Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher. Likewise, the investigation of the case was handled by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office for the same reason.
Leikala was assigned to the case on Sept. 2 by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The Knox County Prosecutor’s Office made its request to the Ohio Supreme Court for a visiting judge on March 17, according to the AG’s Office. Miller was assigned by the Ohio Supreme Court on Aug. 28. The sheriff’s office would not comment or provide information on when it asked BCI to handle the case. According to the AG’s Office, Sheriff David Barber made his request on March 8. It is not clear when the incident was reported to the sheriff’s office. The BCI was entirely responsible for the investigation of the case.
On Sept. 1, an objection to the plea agreement and memorandum in support and certificate of service was filed by Quinn M. Schmiege and Melissa Fuhrmann of the Justice League of Ohio on behalf of the victim.
The basic contention of the objection was that the facts of the case should have required felony charges against the two defendants.
Documents filed by Schmiege and Fuhrmann, allege that on two separate dates in December 2009, Thatcher text messaged a 14-year-old girl, picked her up “from her home in the middle of the night, drove to his grandparents home and had unlawful sexual contact with the victim in his vehicle.”
Schmiege and Fuhrmann argue Thatcher’s age at the time of the alleged incidents make the acts a fourth-degree felony under the Ohio Revised Code. In addition, the two attorneys argue the allegations should also result in a fifth-degree felony count of importuning.
The objection further states Thatcher should also be considered for charges of complicity as he “further perpetrated crimes against the victim by giving his cell phone, vehicle and the use of his grandparents’ driveway to his friend Donald Bailey, to aid him in engaging in unlawful sexual conduct with the minor victim.”
The objection for Bailey’s case also requests he be charged with a fourth-degree felony for unlawful sexual contact and a fifth-degree felony for importuning.
The objections stated, “The victim objects to the proposed plea agreement because the plea charging the defendant(s) with contributing to the unruliness and delinquency of a minor would make the victim a victim of a non-qualifying misdemeanor under ORC 2930.01 — essentially labeling the victim a non-victim. Under the misdemeanor, the victim would be stripped of her right to notice of incarceration and release date, a right that is very important to a victim of a sexual assault.”
“The victim further opposes the proposed plea agreements because the charge of contributing to the unruliness and delinquency of a minor does not adequately describe the seriousness of the crime that the defendant(s) committed. An unruly child is defined under Ohio law as any child who behaves in a manner as to injure or endanger the child’s own health or morals or the health or morals of others. This charge and definition inappropriately places blame on the victim labeling her unruly and inferring that she had an active role in the commission of these crimes. Such victim blaming is extremely damaging and further victimizes a young girl who is already the victim of the defendants’ manipulation and criminal behavior.”
Information from Ted Hart, spokesman for the AG’s Office, was unclear about whether Miller had considered the objections before recusing himself from the case.
What Hart did say was that Luse would pick up the case from the point it was continued because of Miller’s recusal.
“The new judge will take over at the point the case left off,” Hart said. “That would be for sentencing or whatever other developments takes place.”
The other development would be whether Mount Vernon Municipal Court or Knox County Juvenile Court would have jurisdiction.
Because the victim is a minor, Ohio law requires the case be tried in juvenile court unless there is an associated felony for which the defendants could be tried as adults.
“They (Bailey and Thatcher) wouldn’t be sentenced (in municipal court) if (the court) decided there was a jurisdictional issue,” Hart explained. “And then we would refile the charges in juvenile court.”