Sunday, May 23, 2010

Leerkamp Defends Charges; Criticizes Delph Criticism

Hamilton Co. Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp met with Star reporters yesterday and defended criticism that the misdemeanor charges she brought against four former Carmel High School basketball players accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old basketball player on a bus and in the school's locker room didn't match the crime. She also responded to Sen. Mike Delph's criticism of her for not bringing felony charges in the case. Delph is the only elected official in Hamilton Co. to criticize the handling of the case to date. The parents of one of the victims in the current case claims their son was held down, his pants were removed and he was anally penetrated on a team bus where 51 students and three coaches were riding at the time. The parents say their son was victimized not once but on several occasions by the same basketball players accused in this case.

Leekamp's response to criticsm sounded strikingly similar to her explanation to the Star a decade ago in another case where she brought no charges in a case this blog exclusively recalled where three swim team members at the school were accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a 15-year-old swim team member in the school's locker room and showers. Leerkamp complained that witnesses, who she exclusively got to choose to testifify before a 6-person grand jury, gave conflicting testimony during the grand jury proceedings. "I'm not going to necessarily accuse any of the victims of not being credible witnesses," Leerkamp told The Star. "What I'm saying is, in the context of all the evidence, that is what has to be weighed." By not bringing the more serious charges of criminal deviate sexual conduct, criminal confinement and sexual battery, Leerkamp is saying that she doesn't believe the victim's claims just like she said she didn't believe the victim a decade ago, who she said suffered from "a learning disability." In the case a decade ago involving the 15-year-old swimmer, Leerkamp said then that the grand jury heard insufficient evidence to indict the accused. She said she thought the students were mean to the victim then because of his learning disability.

Joel Schumm, a clinical professor at the IU School of Law-Indianapolis, said Leerkamp's comments sounded more like one would expect to hear from a criminal defense attorney, not a prosecutor. The attorney for the victim is not surprised that some witnesses gave differing accounts. "These are star basketball players -- senior basketball players who had a lot of friends -- and they're going to try to protect them," Turner said. "My client is credible. He is a victim, and they've got to treat him like a victim."

Leerkamp also answered Sen. Mike Delph's criticism that she should have brought felony charges in the case. She told the Star's reporters that she had spent a day responding to e-mails and phone calls criticizing her decision. "She also said she was disappointed that Delph did not seek an explanation from her before posting his comment," the Star reported. "I had no agenda one way or the other on the outcome of the case," she said Saturday.

The reporters apparently never questioned Leerkamp about the similarities in this case to the one involving the swimmer a decade ago. There is no mention of the case in their interview reported in today's Star. I also learned some more information over the weekend that has troubled me in this case. I hadn't heard an explanation for why the four seniors, John Scott Laskowski, Brandon Hoge, Robert Kitzinger and Oscar Falodun, were riding on a freshman bus on the night the sexual assault allegedly occurred. A Carmelite informs me that when the bus made a stop at a rest area on the trip home from Terre Haute, the team's head basketball coach became very upset at how the four were acting and told them that if they wanted a ride home they would have to ride on the freshman bus. That account has not been confirmed by those who investigated the case, and I haven't heard any other news reports on that question. Also, I raised a concern about the size of the bus, whether the smaller or larger-sized bus had been used. According to the documents released to the media on Friday, there were 51 students on the bus, which means it had to be a larger-sized bus.

UPDATE: The Star's Robert Annis says reference to the 1998 case was supposed to be included in the story that ran Saturday. He wasn't sure why it wasn't. He said that he believed earlier stories mentioned it. I've been following it closely, and I didn't see any mention of the old case; however, sometimes the Star the newspaper's online editions vary from the print edition.

12 comments:

familygurl said...

Is there some way to post the 2002 Star article? Doesn't seem like the media (including the Star) is going to use Leerkamp's quote justifying the swim team's behavior as somehow OK because they were just "being mean" to him because he had a learning disability. I want to send a copy of the article to the Indiana State Bar with a suggestion that they investigate her conduct in both cases, but don't know how to access the archives.

Advance Indiana said...

I had to purchase the archived story. You'll have to do the same. It would be a violation of the terms for me to pass off the full archived story to others.

Marycatherine Barton said...

I am in total agreement with law professor Joel Schumm's bold assessment of prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp's behavior in this disgusting case of sexual assaults on a minor on a Carmel school bus. Shame on her!! Thanks for AI's continuing focus on this case and other related matters.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Familygurl,

The Indiana State Bar Associationi on its own doesn't investigate attorney misconduct. Heck most attorneys aren't even members of the bar association. The Disciplinary Commission, an arm of the Supreme Court does that.

I wouldn't go that route as I doubt it's misconduct...just horrible judgment and a discirimantory attitude. I'd turn her comments over to groups that advocate for the disabled. If the comment wasn't so dated, they'd probably pursue it.

frankiewehardlyknewye said...

The librarian in me compels me to inform you that you could have obtained this article at no charge through IMCPL's online databases. There is a Proquest index on the library's web page that allows access to the full text of Star articles back through '91. Yes, you pay for it through your property taxes, so it's not exactly free. Still, it was easy to find and there's no reason to pay for the Star archives.

Advance Indiana said...

The last time I tried to search the Star archive at the central library they didn't have access to the years I needed to search. The Star's database is missing many years and is not a very user friendly system. The state library is a better place to look for older Star archived stories; otherwise, you have to go into the Star and ask them to look for it at an additional charge.

Michael said...

I cant believe that y'all, some of whom are lawyers with experience, are so ready to convict those kids. You have no access to the evidence. You have no idea what happened. You know (or should know) that witnesses lie, dissemble, offer conflicting evidence, etc etc etc all the time.

You have no idea what the physical evidence (if any) shows or doesnt show.

I think all you do is look for angles that justify your political goals and feelings and just go from there, common sense and fairness and the law be damned.

Shameful.

Advance Indiana said...

I would point out, Michael, that the harshest criticsm of Leerkamp's handling of this and other cases has come from experts in criminal law who don't have any motivation to discredit her.

Indy4U2C said...

Leerkamp must know that it's time to retire.....

Indy4U2C said...

Oh, Michael, want to debate me on the evidence?

There is evidence of a cover-up, custom, policy & practice....and, if we had a U. S. Attorney in the Southern District of Indiana with the persona of Patrick Fitzgerald, well, let's just say: "There would be justice."

Marycatherine Barton said...

Re Fitzgerald:
What conversations is he trying to hide, that is causing him to refuse to turn over all the wire-taps of Governor Bagdonovich sp., to the defense?. Could it be that they contain remarks about his providing alcohol and sexual partners to people, to get them to perjure themselves in criminal court?

Indy Student said...

Michael, they are not "kids." Three are 18, one is 19. All seniors.