Saturday, April 06, 2013

Sexual Abuse Settlement Blows up

It is not often that a settlement arranged by defense lawyers and prosecutors blows up so spectacularly, but the blow up will now allow the public to view what is settled, by whom and how.

George Harasz and Douglas Wirth of Glastonbury adopted nine boys from three family sets in 2000. On February 11, police began an investigation after sexual abuse had been alleged and all the boys were removed from the home.

The initial charges, later expanded, were serious, according to a report in the Hartford Courant:

“Initially, Harasz, 49, was charged with two counts of first-degree sexual assault, aggravated first-degree sexual assault, fourth-degree sexual assault, two counts of risk of injury to a minor and cruelty to persons. Wirth, 45, was initially charged with third-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor.”

As part of a plea agreement, these charges were reduced to one felony count for each of the men. The two men entered a no contest plea and agreed to suspended prison sentences.

Following the plea agreement, new allegations surfaced. Accompanied by a Department of Children and Families (DCF) social worker, one of the adopted sons had told a probation officer in an interview, according to a pre-sentencing investigation report, that “he has scars from being held down and raped and that those injuries were inflicted by a weapon."

That information was never presented for consideration during the plea bargain process, which ended, considering the initial charges, in a deal extremely favorable to two allegedly abusive parents of the nine boys.

When that flub-up reached the ears of Judge Joan Alexander during a pro-forma hearing at which the two men charged were to accept a plea bargain extremely favorable to them, she was not pleased.

The judge allowed a withdrawal of the earlier plea bargain and said that while a trial would be risky for both the prosecution and the defense, the case should go to trial “in the interest of justice. The facts must be shown and must be shown publicly."

Addressing the DCF lawyer on hand, she asked why a social worker accompanying a victim to an interview with a probation officer did not report an allegation of violent sexual abuse to law enforcement. DCF workers are obligated by statute to report such offense within 12 hours.

The attorney explained in court that the DCF worker had assumed the allegation she heard was already part of the criminal case, to which the judge responded sharply  that the explanation was “disingenuous" --  because the victim had noted in the same interview that he had never told investigators about that particular incident.

"How could that be interpreted,” the judge asked, “as part and parcel" of the initial investigation?

The judge also remarked that DCF had twice made exception to its own rules by allowing Mr. Wirth and Mr. Harasz two waivers so they might adopt more children.

Joette Katz, a former associate justice of Connecticut’s  Supreme Court before she was tapped by Governor Dannel Malloy as his DCF Commissioner, was in court to hear the judge’s remonstrations and later promised to refer for investigation the overlooked allegations.

Before the sentencing hearing ended, one of the alleged victims of the two men was permitted to address the court.

Now a teenager, the alleged victim said, according to the Courant story, “that the physical, psychological and sexual abuse began when he was 6 years old. Wirth and Harasz would touch him and violate him, he said, and would make him satisfy them sexually. The alleged victim — the same one who made the new allegations — said Harasz and Wirth abused him when no one else was around.

“’They took turns raping me over and over,’ he said. ‘Anyone who would do this to a child is a sick, demented person.’"

The alleged sick and demented persons – no thanks to those who facilitated the extremely lenient, since abandoned initial plea bargain – have now, by agreeing to ditch a plea bargain in favor of a public trial, put their feet on the road to justice. 
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