Judge: Teen Can't Contest Prosecutor Involvement

Aug 31, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. --  A teenage sexual assault victim cannot attempt to remove a prosecutor over claims that he showed bias and failed to consult her over a plea agreement because, under Kentucky law, a victim is not a "participant" in a criminal case, a judge ruled Friday.

Jefferson District Judge Angela McCormick Bisig ruled Friday that 17-year-old Savannah Dietrich of Louisville lacks standing in the cases of her two attackers and therefore cannot file motions. But, Bisig ruled, Dietrich can address allegations of prosecutorial bias and how the plea agreement was handled when the teens are sentenced on Sept. 14.

Kentucky's law grants crime victims multiple rights, including a requirement that prosecutors consult victims when reaching a plea agreement. But those rights do not entitle the victim to become an active player in court proceedings, Bisig concluded.

"She should be able ... to at least present issues that the requirement was violated," Bisig said.

The Associated Press does not generally identify victims of sexual assault, but Dietrich and her parents wanted her story to be made public. The names of the two attackers have not been disclosed because the case has been handled in juvenile court.

The teens, who were 16 at the time of the assault, pleaded guilty in late June. The attack occurred in August 2011. The case initially gained public attention when Dietrich turned to Twitter and sent out details of her case to show frustration with the plea deal.

Friday's hearing arose because Dietrich accused prosecutor Paul Richwalsky of showing favoritism toward the attackers because he is an alumnus and active booster of Trinity High School in Louisville, where the two attackers are students. Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell on Friday denied that Richwalsky's outside involvements played any role in the plea negotiations.

"We can talk about every high school everybody went to in Kentucky in every criminal proceeding and probably find the same argument," O'Connell said after the hearing.

A composed Dietrich, speaking after the hearing, said she still believes Richwalsky was biased in how he handled the deal and she plans to speak at sentencing about it and ask Bisig to either modify or halt the plea deal. Dietrich also said she'll talk about how the attack has affected her life.

"Unjust things have happened to me," Dietrich said. "Hopefully, the judge will side with me."

The hearing came a day after Bisig ordered the release of hundreds of pages of documents in the case. The Courier-Journal first reported on the release of the records.

In interviews with Louisville Metro Police in February, the two boys told detectives they assaulted Dietrich because "we thought it would be funny, but it wasn't."

The two boys told detectives that they were drinking with Dietrich and a few other people at her home last August when they were left alone with the heavily intoxicated teen.

The boys said they lifted Dietrich's shirt, pulled down her pants and penetrated her vagina with their fingers. The boys said they took two or three pictures each, put Dietrich's clothes back on and carried her upstairs to her room.

The older of the two boys told police that he molested Dietrich because "I guess we thought it would be funny." He also said that "she was fine with it."

Police asked the boy how he knew Dietrich was fine with the assault.

"I mean she could have definitely been like, `Stop, don't do this' and we would have stopped, but she didn't," the boy said. He also told police that Dietrich was conscious but "very drunk" and had "low eyelids."

The younger teen also said he thought the assault would be "funny." He said in an interview with the Department of Juvenile Justice after pleading guilty to sexual abuse first degree and voyeurism that it was a "stupid idea."

Dietrich later learned of the boys' plea deal, which she considered too lenient, then tweeted their names and complained about her treatment by the court. The boys' attorneys at first sought to have her held in contempt of court for exposing what was, at the time, a confidential juvenile court proceeding.

Dietrich responded to the contempt motion by complaining in an affidavit that Richwalsky, the chief prosecutor in the juvenile court division of the county attorney's office, told her "get over it and see a therapist. He told me that jail time for the boys was not an option. The jail was for `real' rapists, murderers and robbers," according to the affidavit.

After the hearing Friday, Dietrich described the entire ordeal as tough, but was thankful that her family has stood by her for the duration. She also encouraged others who have been sexually assaulted to step forward.

"Stand up for yourself," Dietrich said. "Don't let the big guys scare you. You've just got to do what's right."