During the first week of March, the Muskingum County Prosecutor's Office proceeded to trial on two separate cases of child sexual abuse in front of two separate juries.

Ron Welch
Muskingum County Prosecutor


Friday, March 10, 2023

Discouraging sexual assault trials are no deterrent to aggressive prosecution

During the first week of March, the Muskingum County Prosecutor’s Office proceeded to trial on two separate cases of child sexual abuse in front of two separate juries.

In one case, a victim of sexual assault came to disclose her abuse as a four-year-old during a counseling session when she was a teenager. The subsequent investigation yielded information that corroborated her abuse, and the man who perpetrated the rape against her failed a polygraph, or ‘lie detector’ examination “spectacularly,” according to his polygrapher.

Ohio law does not permit polygraphy analysis testimony, so the jury never heard about the offender being caught in his lies, but the fact that he was lying was an important part in choosing to pursue the charges against him despite limited other evidence. This often is the case in delayed disclosures due to the inevitable decrease in DNA and other crucial elements of physical evidence over time. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict concerning the now 17-year-old victim finding the defendant not guilty of rape. After the trial, jurors asked that a message be sent to the victim that the jurors believed her. Because the one and only requirement to convict the defendant of rape was that a jury believe the victim, the jury’s verdict was in conflict with the requested message.

In another case tried this week, Muskingum County jurors could not be convinced after several hours of deliberation that a child was raped who reported her abuse to a children’s services agency. Jurors had the benefit of forensic interviewers, the testimony of the victim and corroborating physical evidence but remained unwilling to convict the offender of the crimes the victim described in court and to forensic interviewers.

It goes without saying that the outcomes of these cases were disappointing to the Muskingum County Prosecutor’s Office and the Muskingum County community in general. Extensive resources from hospitalization, counseling, specialist intervention for the rape victims, extensive children’s services and detective bureau investigation went into the pursuit of prosecution in these matters.

The prosecutor’s office does not shy away from difficult cases against offenders the office is convinced are guilty, and the office aggressively demands a thorough investigation of sexual assault reports from a broad range of offenders and factual circumstances. The outcomes of the cases this week demonstrate the necessity and importance of negotiated resolutions in cases involving sexual offenders.

Oftentimes, these resolutions must be for substantially less prison time than any parties would prefer.

In both of the cases tried this week, the offenders could have faced life in prison if convicted. Yet, in both of the cases tried this week, the offenders have already returned to their families – the exact environment wherein the victims were raped.

Every jury verdict is factored into the decision-making process regarding future plea negotiations and sentencing.

The Muskingum County Prosecutor’s Office sometimes fields questions from the public concerning negotiated pleas related to sexual offenders. Often those questions are framed in comparison to negotiated pleas concerning drug dealers.

It is worth exploring the differences in these types of cases related to their negotiated outcomes so that the public can have an understanding of the differences. In most cases, the major contributing factors related to sentencing ‘bad persons,’ whether they are major drug offenders or sex offenders relate to two factors – how strong the case is against the person and how much punishment the Ohio Revised Code permits for their offense.

For the most part, when large-scale drug cases are brought against major distributors, numerous purchases of drugs have been made. Those exchanges are recorded via various media forms, including video, audio and photo, in addition to telephone and internet records obtained to establish the transactions. The offenders are also often caught in the act with drugs, marked money and a host of other evidence which locks them into their guilt.

These items of evidence reduce the need for the prosecutor’s office to mitigate against a “risk of loss” at trial on those offenses.

On the other hand, law enforcement is not able to equip victims of sexual abuse with video recording devices, wires, or other items and send the victims out to be raped or victimized for the purpose of strengthening the case against a child rapist. The investigation is limited to the word of the person who has been victimized and the evidence that can be collected after the crime is reported. This very often results in a case that is not as strong for a jury as is a case that is all on video.

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Discouraging sexual assault trials are no deterrent to aggressive prosecution