If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating …
~from IF by Rudyard Kipling
Martin Meyer is an Olympia, Washington, attorney who has represented thousands of juveniles during his 30-year career. He wrote a series of blog posts that reveal the media’s extreme misrepresentation of the legal facts in the Luke Heimlich case:
THE OREGONIAN ARTICLES THAT BROKE THE STORY IN JUNE 2017
by Kristine Erickson
The Oregonian was extraordinarily unjust in its June 2017 articles that exposed Luke’s juvenile record. Their writers used inaccurate, inflammatory terms in describing most aspects of the legal case. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1971 landmark decision, held that juveniles are not entitled to the constitutional rights of an adult. The majority opinion cited profound differences between adult and juvenile legal proceedings, including the entirely different terminology used. (See Juvenile Injustice page on this site.)
“Justice White concurred, writing separately to emphasize the substantive differences between criminal and juvenile courts. He concluded, consistent with precedent that juvenile proceedings are not trials within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment and that adding procedural safeguards necessary in criminal trials to juvenile proceedings would be unnecessary in light of the important differences between the two.”
“Citing the nature of the offenses here and the potential for substantial punishment (and societal judgment) the dissenters saw no reason why the Sixth Amendment, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, should not apply to juvenile offenders charged with committing crimes that would be punishable at law if committed by adults.”
The court’s dissenting opinion was prescient in citing the potential for “societal judgment” as a reason that juveniles should have full constitutional rights. As Luke’s case demonstrates, the internet and social media now enable society’s self-appointed judges to whip up a vigilante mob numbering in the millions.
According to the Supreme Court, Luke has never been “convicted” of a “crime.” He has never been a “felon” under the law. He was charged a few weeks after his 16th birthday. When he subsequently signed a guilty plea in juvenile court and was sentenced to probation, he lacked the maturity and even the constitutional rights he would have needed to effectively defend himself. Yet the two Oregonian articles published on June 8, 2017, used forms of the words crime, conviction, and felon more than 60 times in describing Luke’s juvenile record. They unleashed a host of vigilante journalists who keep repeating the same false, condemnatory language throughout America and beyond.
In recent years, the language of adult criminal law seems to be creeping into juvenile court documents and proceedings in a manner that perverts the intent of the 1971 Supreme Court decision. A juvenile was adjudicated guilty of an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult, and vigilante journalists report the story using the most inflammatory language possible.
Luke’s Washington juvenile record was exposed due to a mistake by local law enforcement officers in Benton County, Oregon, who incorrectly cited him for failing to comply with a section of Oregon law that didn’t apply to him. By the time the Oregonian published its original story, the charge in that case had already been dismissed by a county circuit court judge.
The charge was dismissed on May 17, 2017, and the 6/8/17 Mark Katches article in the Oregonian said Danny Moran did a background check on Luke Heimlich May 18. The Danny Moran article includes multiple references to Luke’s “registration lapse” and “criminal citation” before finally revealing far down the page that the charge had been dismissed. The world’s attention span doesn’t last for 30 paragraphs, and most people have since regarded the Oregon citation as additional evidence that Luke is a lawbreaker. To further damn him, thousands of people on blogs, talk shows, and social media have made the false claim that Luke never registered as the law requires.
At the end of August 2017, Luke’s juvenile record was sealed, and he should now be entitled to the clean slate promised in Washington State law: “Thereafter the proceedings in the case shall be treated as if they never occurred, and the subject of the records may reply accordingly to any inquiry about the events, records of which are sealed.” RCW 13.50.260 (6)(a)
By opening Pandora’s box less than three months before Luke was entitled to have his juvenile record sealed, the Oregonian thwarted the promise of Washington State law and condemned Luke Heimlich to a life sentence. In attempting to justify his decision to publish the articles, Mark Katches, Vice President of Content for the Oregonian Media Group, wrote “journalists must always follow the story where the facts lead us.” The hypocrisy of that statement is evident when the facts are revealed.
ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO INVENT
Even the brother’s ex-wife has admitted to reporters that her daughter “doesn’t really remember everything that happened” and “just knows [Luke] was inappropriate.” Such statements don’t serve the purposes of vigilante journalism, so the New York Times invented “the victim’s enduring anguish” in the 5/7/18 story by Kurt Streeter.
The Times story also falsely says Luke “failed to update his whereabouts for a state registry of sex offenders, which led to a police citation, which in turn tipped reporters to his case.” How is it that reporters who are so good at digging up dirt can’t seem to discover that charge was dismissed a year ago and a judge ordered the arrest record expunged?
The Times story goes on to say, “The girl’s mother, divorced from Heimlich’s brother since around the time the allegations surfaced, is adamant in her belief that the pitcher’s dream never be fulfilled.” This almost implies the divorce may have been a result of the alleged abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. The girl’s parents divorced in December 2009, the mother left Washington State two or three months later, and a subsequent custody dispute was resolved in the father’s favor in August 2011. The mother made the allegation of abuse immediately after her daughter’s first holiday visit following her loss of custody. All of this is public record and can be located with a simple Google search, but that wouldn’t serve the purposes of vigilante journalism.
Then Streeter quotes the mother as follows: “My opinion is that he should not be able to play,’ she said, ‘not in college nor the pros.’ For her daughter, she said, the case ‘will only go away when Luke is out of the light. If he makes it to the big leagues, he will be in the light forever. Any accomplishment he makes will shine the light on her. It could be 50 years from now, he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, they will bring up this story.”
Seriously?! The mother is the one who encouraged the Oregonian to break this story. The mother is the one who is so eager for 15 minutes of fame that she threw her own daughter under the bus. The mother is the one responsible for linking her daughter to Luke Heimlich’s name for life.
But it wouldn’t pay to examine that too closely. Vigilante journalism requires a victim, and a child victim with a sanctified mother is like hitting the jackpot.
THE TIMING OF LUKE’S GUILTY PLEA
S.L. Price with Sports Illustrated is the one major media writer who has tried to present a reasonably balanced view of Luke’s case, but his cover story (5/16/18) propagated two of the most damaging falsehoods to tens of millions of readers. In one case, I can’t fault him, because the brother’s ex-wife told him a malicious lie: “(The girl’s mother says that Heimlich accepted the plea the day before her daughter was set to testify.)” That has been repeated and retweeted countless times to reinforce the image of Luke as a guilty boy who caved at the last moment to avoid a harsher sentence.
Since there are no public documents available to refute that statement, I will reference the 6/8/17 Oregonian article: “The guilty plea eliminated any need for ‘further interviews of the victim or her testimony at trial’ prosecutors wrote.” What further interviews? If the girl had been scheduled to testify the following day, her interviews would have already been done. The point of the plea agreement was to spare her from all of that.
A mythical trial date was scheduled three weeks after Luke’s “Plea & Sentencing” hearing. It was a shock to my system when I recently saw his schedule of 2012 appearances and noticed the standard court form has sentencing scheduled before the trial. What could more perfectly illustrate the brokenness of our injustice system? More than 95% of cases are resolved by a guilty plea, so the form is designed accordingly.
Based on Washington juvenile court caseload statistics for 2017, there were 591 kids in the local county who pled guilty vs. 12 who insisted on a trial. Of those 12, ten were adjudicated guilty and two were acquitted. So, all you foolhardy pundits who confidently proclaim you would never plead guilty to something you didn’t do, how do you like those odds?
THE MYTHICAL SEVEN-PAGE HANDWRITTEN PLEA AGREEMENT
The other damaging item in the Sports Illustrated article is this: “I admit,” Heimlich declared in his seven-page “Statement on Plea of Guilty,” written in his own hand and then signed on Aug. 27, 2012, in an open Pierce County juvenile courtroom, “that I had sexual contact with my niece.”
To be fair to the author, I’ll assume that convoluted sentence just accidentally makes it sound as if Luke wrote a seven-page confession. Several major media outlets subsequently incorporated versions of Heimlich’s “seven-page handwritten plea agreement” into their articles. Unscrupulous blogs then turned it into his “seven-page handwritten confession.” That triggered a new wave of social media condemnation of Luke. After all, how could an innocent boy write seven pages about something he didn’t do?
In Washington State, the BLANK FORM for a juvenile “Statement on Plea of Guilty” is seven pages long.
At Item 16 toward the bottom of page 6, a 10-word “confession” was written on Luke’s plea agreement: “I admit that I had sexual contact with my niece.” The judge demanded an admission of guilt as a condition of granting probation, and I believe those words were actually written in by Luke’s lawyer. One of my cousins, Anne Bremner, is a nationally known attorney who prosecuted many child sex-abuse cases in her early career as an assistant district attorney in Seattle. When she saw the “confession” attributed to Luke, she said it is standard boilerplate language written by lawyers in such cases.
I think the only thing Luke wrote on the guilty plea was his signature. He inadvertently revealed this in his Sports Illustrated interview: “We didn’t have all the answers, clearly,” Heimlich says. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. I would never say I was pushed into pleading guilty by either of my parents, because ultimately I can make decisions for myself—and I was the one that wrote my name down and pled guilty.”
On 8/2/2018, I updated this page to correct the timing of a court order that expunged Luke’s Benton County, Oregon, record. The charge was dismissed on May 17, 2017, but I have learned the county circuit court didn’t order the record sealed until six months later, on November 27, 2017. The expungement court order concludes with the following emphatic statement: “Now, therefore, it is hereby ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the Defendant’s arrest record herein should be and the same is hereby set aside pursuant to ORS 137.225, and hereafter the Defendant for all purposes of the law shall be deemed not to have been previously arrested herein.” Therefore, Luke now has an unblemished record in both Washington and Oregon.