Yes, you read that correctly! A man has been sentenced to 187 years in prison. What did he do exactly to get that big a sentence? Well, he allegedly lured “underage girls into sex acts with him by throwing alcohol- and drug-fueled parties and giving some of them tattoos.”
Jason Schwartz, 31, from Butler, Indiana, was convicted early last month of 10 felony charges, “including child molesting and sexual misconduct with a minor.” Authorities state that the six girls were between the ages of 13 and 15 when the crimes happened two years ago.
He didn’t testify during Monday’s sentence hearing, but when he was called a predator by Judge Monte Brown, he replied with an “I’m not.” Brown responded with a “I know that’s your opinion, but it’s not mine.”
Several of the girls had testified that they attended parties at Schwartz’s home, and there was marijuana, alcohol, and the synthetic drug known as “spice” there. One girl stated that in exchange for a tattoo she had sex with Schwartz, and another girl who he gave a tattoo to said “Schwartz asked her for sex, but she refused.”
Clara May Winebrenner, DeKalb County Prosecutor, said Schwartz “committed the sex crimes against wayward, vulnerable teenage girls.”
According to Defense Attorney, Hugh Taylor, Schwartz continues to maintain that he’s innocent. Schwartz plans on appealing the sentences and convictions.
In two of the child molesting charges, it was discovered that Schwartz was a habitual offender, “having two previous unrelated felony charges for burglary and battery causing bodily injury.”
I always have questions when I read stories about prison sentences, and it gave me great pleasure to speak with Randy Zelin, who’s a former Prosecutor/Criminal Defense Attorney about this particular story. Without further ado, here’s my interview with him.
MC: He’s getting a 187 years. Why such a big number if no one is going to live that long?
RZ: It’s a great question. I think part of the analysis has to come down to whether or not he actually has to do what is probably tantamount to at least two lifetimes in jail assuming he would’ve lived till around 90 and come back again. And then to have to go back to jail. In other words, what I’m saying is very often a sentence becomes more of a sound bite than actual time because in a jurisdiction like Indiana where there is parole he may be eligible for parole let’s say after 20 years. That doesn’t mean that he’s going to get parole but at least he may have the opportunity to go before a parole board and maybe say, “Look, in the ensuing 20 years I’m a very different person. I’m 51-years-old. I have taken classes; I have become spiritual. I’ve gotten a GED. I’ve done this…I’ve done that. I’ve helped other prisoners. I have worked…I never had any blemish on my record in terms of a disciplinary violation. I am a model citizen in jail and I am rehabilitated.”
Taking a quick look at the Indiana Statute, I can tell you that there is specific language that does say…and remember he didn’t commit a murder…so, what you do is when you look at the Indiana Statute that talks about parole…for example, it says “a person is sentenced upon conviction of a felony to a determinate term of prison is eligible for consideration for release on parole upon completion of one-half (1/2) of his determinate term of imprisonment” [which would be in this case about 93 1/2 years] “or at the expiration of twenty (20) years, whichever comes first, less the credit time he has earned with respect to the term.”
It may be that he’s eligible to go before a parole board and argue for his release as early as 2034. So, to answer your question it may very well be that nobody’s doing 187 years. The reason why he got 187 years is so you and I could be having a conversation and you would have something to write about. If he got 20 years..if he got 30 years…if he got 25 to 50, you probably wouldn’t be writing a story about it. When you see these sentences like 187 years for Mr. Schwartz…what did Bernie Madoff get? 150 years?…it becomes a discussion.
MC: In cases like these, what generally happens? Do they get parole or do they run out their sentence?
RZ: I have to tell you that I’m somewhat torn. I will now speak to you as a lawyer and not as a father of three children, two of whom are girls. One of whom is almost 16, and one of whom is almost 13, which would put them right in Mr. Schwartz’s age category.
What it really comes down to is can this person be rehabilitated? Is he a redeemable human being? Is he worthy of not having the key taken and thrown into the river? I think in looking at the nature of the charges, where could you have an argument? Could you have a discussion with a straight face that there are worse things that a human being can do? Again, he didn’t kill anyone…he didn’t torture anyone. These were not pre-pubescent children.
Quite frankly, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a 15-year-old girl or boy, whether it’s a crime because it’s statutory rape or not, can have sex. That doesn’t shock anybody’s conscience to hear that in today’s time that a 15-year-old might be having sex. I think you do have to look at the nature of the crimes and I don’t believe that anyone is claiming rape beyond statutory rape. In other words, there are different ways to classify rape. You could have statutory rape, which is simply because of your age the law is determined that you were incapable of consenting. You could be the most mature 15-year-old on the planet but since the law doesn’t have the opportunity to look at a child on a person by person basis there is a blanket across the board line drawn in the sand that, for example, in New York nobody under the age of 17 can consent to having sex. That’s very different from rape as a result of force…rape as the result of being rendered physically helpless.
So, I don’t know that it would be ridiculous if I were Mr. Schwartz’s lawyer to argue that if you take a spectrum and you take a crime…ok, what is the least egregious fact pattern under these crimes on one end, and then you put the most egregious on the other. And when you talk about rape and you look at the spectrum I would respectfully submit to you that someone who is close to the age of consent, like a 15-year-old, that goes on probably the lower end, again with no force…no physical helplessness. Yes, is it possible the child is vulnerable, which maybe moves you a little bit? But it’s certainly very different than the rape of let’s say a five-year-old, a seven-year-old, an eight-year-old…throw in force…throw in physical helplessness.
I would respectfully submit to you that had Mr. Schwartz done it by force to a stranger in a back alley or had slipped someone in a bar some kind of drug that would physically render the girl physically helpless or beat a girl up and then raped her…it’s a very different crime than throwing parties. Again, these girls may have been vulnerable but it’s not the same kind of crime. That’s how I would argue it as a lawyer.
MC: Even though these were drug-fueled parties?
RZ: A drug-fueled party doesn’t necessarily render someone physically helpless.
MC: What about the alcohol? Maybe he was getting them really drunk.
RZ: From what I can see from the article, I think and I would suggest to you, that if in fact that was the case that probably would’ve been very prominent in the article. It sounds to me that this is a guy who took advantage of vulnerable girls who could be easily influenced into doing things that perhaps someone of the same age, but not maybe having gone through what these girls have gone through, might have reacted differently. But then again, by the same token maybe not. You’re talking about now bringing in Psychiatrists and bringing in mental health professionals. That’s what I would do if I was representing Mr. Schwartz and there was no question as to whether some kind of sex took place. Now you move away from, “Ok, we’re beyond the question of whether or not there was sex,” because that’s an element that the prosecution has to prove. Now you move to the victim and what happened here. And trying to create some assessment of the victim. It may very well be that a 15-year-old wants to have sex. I’m not condoning it…I’m not saying it’s right.
MC: I guess you have to remove yourself from the father aspect of it, right?
RZ: Correct. And you have to say would you give up all hope on a 15-year-old boy or girl who had sex? No, I don’t think you would.
MC: Do you think he can be rehabilitated?
RZ: That’s a great question. Unfortunately, when you look at him it makes it kind of difficult to say, “yes.” By the same token I think stranger things have happened. The question comes down to not asking yourself, “Today, can he be rehabilitated?” The question is, “Can he ever be rehabilitated?” Can people change? Can people recognize the error of their ways; were there people throughout history who were not nice people but at some point had an epiphany or decided this way isn’t working for me anymore? I don’t know that any of us are in a position for us to make that call right now.
MC: Is Indiana one of the more harsher states in terms of sentences?
RZ: I would say based upon this particular case…I said this actually on FOX when Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years…that was basically the equivalent of him having killed a whole bunch of people and he didn’t. Let’s look at all the sentences where people have been convicted of murder and even multiple murders. Did they get the sentences that looked like that? That’s where it becomes difficult because part of what lawyers do is we live in a world of precedence and when you’re representing someone you want to look at other sentences so you can advise the client and you can prepare. So, what happens is a sentence like this of 187 years kind of screws everything up.
When a client comes in and says, “What am I looking at?” you’d like to be able to say that you can give the client a reasonable range because while every case stands on its own there are certain similarities and fact patterns. And that’s how a judge determines the sentences. With a sentence like this, how do you adequately advise a client? Admittedly, Mr. Schwartz has priors and that amped up his sentence but still, that’s a lot of time. The presumption of innocence now subjected to an appeal is gone. He’s been convicted. So you can say what he did was horrible. But there are more horrible crimes. What do you do with someone who’s done something more horrible? The whole sentencing regime gets completely thrown out of whack…. I think there’s got to be perspective as heinous as the crime may be and as much as you want to send a message. Clearly, a sentence of 187 years sends a message. I think the problem is it sends a couple of different messages It also creates confusion in the message.