CADILLAC — On a day where a jury handed out a guilty verdict in a criminal sexual conduct trial, a group of people gathered outside the Wexford County Courthouse in protest of a recent CSC case plea.
Mike Holloway, who organized the protest on Thursday, said he wanted to make people aware of what he considered to be "soft plea deals" for child molesters and violent people by Wexford County Prosecutor Jason Elmore. He also said he wanted to bring attention to the need for reform when it comes to protecting minor victims against the person who molests or sexually assaults them.
"I don't feel that it is fair a 13-year-old girl should be forced to testify in court against her molester in order for (the molestor) to get more than 90 days (in jail)," Holloway said.
Although Holloway said he has taken exception with the pleas Elmore agreed to recently and in other CSC-related cases, he also said he has not talked to him or expressed his grievance with him. He said after he found out what happened in a case involving a friend's child, he got irritated and decided to come up to the courthouse in protest last week.
People found out about what he did, and Holloway said he started to get support for what he had done. It was then decided to hold the protest on Thursday. This time, however, Holloway wasn't alone as several others including the parents of the victim in the CSC case also were there.
While the mother of the victim spoke with the Cadillac News, her name is not being shared to protect the identity of her minor child. Like Holloway, she wants to see some changes in how things are done with CSC cases. The victim's mother said she was made aware of the plea before the recent court hearing, but she still was anticipating at least the year sentence.
"I sat in the courtroom and listened to them tell me he was going to get 90 days max in jail over what he did as a third-time offender to my child," the victim's mother said. "They even talked to me and told me they were going for at least a year."
While the plea was one issue she had, the victim's mother also believes there should be changes to the law that allows for previous statements given by victims to be used in court. That way, the victims are not forced to retell the experience of their abuse and/or assault.
When asked about CSC cases, Elmore said they are quite complex, and rarely is there physical evidence or eyewitnesses. He also said there are often credibility contests. Likewise, not all victims can or want to do a trial because they can be traumatic.
According to the Victim's Right Act, Elmore said prosecutors must discuss negotiations with victims, and he said that was done in the case Holloway and the victim's mother were protesting the plea.
"There are several issues to consider in how to resolve cases, which is why I set up a prioritization system. Recently, due to the backlog, we have asked victims if they want their case to go to trial, stay on the stack, or get some closure," Elmore said. "For some victims, closure, not testifying, and seizing some sense of control is preferred. That is when we give great deference to the victims. We do not resolve sexual assault cases to a particular charge without consent of the victim."
Pretrial agreements are a necessity and Elmore said without them the system would be crippled.
As for the changes both Holloway and the victim's mother are looking for, Elmore said he also believes there needs to be change. That is why he sent a letter to both 102nd District State Rep. Michele Hoitenga and 35th District State Sen. Curt VanderWall requesting their help in getting those changes.
In a March letter, Elmore said he was writing to the legislators to bring attention to an important issue involving the prosecution of sexual assault cases involving child victims. Like Holloway and the victim's mother, Elmore asked Hoitenga and VanderWall to "amend the law to allow the statements made by these victims to the professionals at our children’s advocacy centers, which law enforcement is compelled to use as assistants, in these cases be admissible."
"We have had victims unable to testify, run from the courtroom, succumb to the pressure and trauma of their story being told in public," Elmore said. "This is why we defer heavily to the needs and opinions of the victims."