This is a really ugly story which has been making its way around the web the past few days. I take no joy in covering this but it is an “Amish” story, and one that is getting attention for reasons which raise questions about equal treatment.
Two adult brothers plead guilty to molesting their minor-age sister in the Seymour, Missouri Amish community. Here’s a summary of the situation via the Webster County Citizen:
Two Amish brothers, 22-year-old Aaron C.M. Schwartzand 18-year-old Petie C.M. Schwartz, plead guilty last week to two counts of third-degree child molestation with a child under the age of 14, a Class C felony, in connection with events last year and earlier this year when they and two of their younger brothers, both minors, engaged in sexual relations with their younger sister, who was only 12 and13 years old at the time of the alleged sexual acts.
Trial in the case was set for last Tuesday, Sept. 8, but prior to court proceedings, a plea agreement between the two brothers, their legal counsel, Springfield attorney Will Worsham, and Webster County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Berkstresser was reached, where the brothers received a 10-year sentence in the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) on the first count and a five-year DOC sentence on the second count, with a suspended execution of sentence on both counts, meaning neither brother will initially serve time in a state prison.
The brothers will need to complete some requirements including writing a letter, community service, and paying some nominal fees, and will be on probation for five years and the sex offender’s list for life. But as long as they complete their sex offender program, they have escaped doing hard time.
In justifying the deal, Berkstresser explained that “these two boys are very immature relative to their respective ages. Maturity wise, they are much younger than their age.” If sent to prison, he stated that “These two young men would’ve been eaten alive in the state prison system.”
He also saw this case differently based on the relationship:
“In the end, this wasn’t a case of a parent and child, where a parent in a position of authority sexually abused or exploited their child,” he said. “This was a situation where four siblings engaged in acts with their sister. I offered a 15-year prison sentence based on this … it was a different relationship.”
Berkstresser acknowledged he would likely be criticized for the deal, but said that “Previously, I’ve been very harsh on the Amish when they’ve been charged with crimes of this nature,” citing a case where he sent a father to prison for similar crimes.
What about the Amish community? Berkstresser describes a group in Seymour which sees itself as separate from consequences in a worldly English system:
“But within the Amish community that primarily lives in the Seymour area, (the Amish) don’t see the authority we have to do anything to them. This was a tough case to prosecute.
The Amish community was cooperative yet upset.
They made it clear to me that they had punished all four of the boys for their actions, and they made it clear that this punishment was very severe.”
Complicating the case further, the abused girl just had a baby, fathered by one of her brothers.
It appears that the legal parties involved have taken background circumstances into account. The prosecuting attorney however seems to suggest that it is not the boys’ Amish background that influenced the agreement, as much as their maturity level. Others argue that this is in fact preferential treatment based on religion.