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Probation hearing: Amish brothers' lawyer argues 'no actual contact' with victim took place after sentencing

Gregory J. Holman Springfield News-Leader
While a security official and an out-of-state film crew member monitor the scene, anti-sex abuse demonstrators confront a vehicle carrying two Amish brothers convicted of felony child molestation Wednesday after they left a probation hearing at the Webster County Courthouse in Marshfield.

Editor's note: It is the policy of the News-Leader to avoid identifying the victims of sexual crimes, especially minors, as we strive to accurately convey the nature and severity of the associated acts. Details about the victim published by other outlets or included in the authorities' statements have been omitted or paraphrased for that reason.

MARSHFIELD — With bowed heads and clad in black, two Seymour-area Amish brothers convicted of molesting a 13-year-old female relative had their latest day in court Wednesday, after a local prosecutor asked a judge last week to send the brothers to prison over accusations that they violated a key term of their five-year probation.

Court documents show that 22-year-old Aaron C.M. Schwartz and 18-year-old Petie C.M. Schwartz, forbidden under a plea agreement from any contact with the victim of their crime, are accused of making contact with the 13-year-old “at her residence.” The county prosecutor, Ben Berkstresser, previously said that if the two Amish brothers failed to abide by the sex offender restrictions imposed as part of their probation, the men face prison time.

Their 15-year sentences were suspended last month as part of the plea agreement. Charges initially filed in June cited the brothers for statutory rape and incest, then were lowered to felony child molestation in September before sentencing. The plea agreement has sparked outrage among people who resist sex abuse and rape culture, and many observers question whether the justice system meted out appropriate consequences to the Amish brothers for their actions.

Will Worsham, the Springfield-based lawyer for the Amish men, argued before Webster County Judge Michael O. Hendrickson on Wednesday morning that “there has been no actual contact with the victim.”

Worsham said that after a probation meeting where the brothers were made aware of a possible “technical violation,” the brothers moved to another part of the property where they were present to ensure no contact with the victim.

Worsham also argued that a probation officer’s report on the alleged violation indicated that his clients do not reside with the victim. He told Judge Hendrickson that the probation officer in the case advised “delayed action” against the brothers. Worsham also said that it’s “pretty unusual” for this type of alleged violation to be met with immediate imposition of a sentence, and that the court could find on Wednesday that the alleged violation “doesn’t rise to the level of requiring a court hearing.”

Judge Hendrickson declined to throw out the motion to revoke probation on the spot. He collected sex offender supervision agreement documents from the probation officer in the case and set a new hearing for 3 p.m. on Oct. 22.

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Judge Hendrickson limited public attendance at the hearing to 10 people, other than officers of the court. The News-Leader was admitted to the hearing after requesting access from the judge Wednesday morning.

Protesters, film crew outside the courthouse

About a dozen demonstrators, almost all of them women, arrayed themselves outside the Webster County Courthouse before, during and after the hearing. They shouted chants and carried neon-colored protest signs with slogans including "The Amish are not above our laws!" and "Wear her shoes!"

"We demand justice, with full investigation, and your resignation," protesters chanted, in an apparent reference to their outrage over prosecutor Berkstresser's handling of the brothers' cases.

Tiffani Hill, a local resident, said she organized a group called Child Advocacy Against Pedophilia in response to this case and said that most demonstrators were involved with the group. The group demonstrated on Monday and Wednesday morning, Hill said.

Another demonstrator, 46-year-old Lizzie Herschberger, said she traveled to Webster County from Mabel, Minnesota to demonstrate at the courthouse Wednesday morning.

With a two-person film crew in tow, Herschberger said she was in Missouri to support the teenage victim. She described herself as a former Amish community member who survived rape at age 14 by an Amish deacon who later received 45 days of jail time.

"I was just appalled," she said, when she learned of the Schwartz brothers case via news accounts.

Nearly an hour after the hearing ended, the Schwartz brothers and three Amish community members accompanying them exited the courthouse and were confronted by screams of protest from the demonstrators, some of whom were dressed as comic-book characters including Captain America and the Incredible Hulk.

"We're going to end this!" one man shouted at an automobile carrying the defendants and community members away from the courthouse facility on the Marshfield town square. "We are going to end this!"

gholman@gannett.com

Petie C.M. Schwartz