Sauk Co. mother waits 3.5 years and counting for her daughter’s sexual assault case to be tried

According to government data, over the past four years in Wisconsin, it’s typically taken ten months to close a case.
Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 9:38 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Sauk County mom says her daughter doesn’t feel safe at home after a man accused of sexually assaulting the girl was let out on bond, now living less than two miles away. This family says the court system meant to deliver justice is keeping them from getting theirs.

This Sauk County mom wants to go by Sara. Her identity will be kept confidential to protect her daughter, the alleged victim who is a minor. The criminal complaint was filed back in December of 2017, charging a person with five felony counts of first degree child sexual assault. It’s been three and a half years and this case hasn’t gone to trial.

Some say the wheels of justice turn slowly, but Sara never imagined closure would take this long.

“This December it will be four years,” says Sara.

Sara’s daughter was 11 when the sexual assault charges were filed back in 2017. Now her daughter is 15, and the Sauk County case had yet to go to trial.

“The longer it goes on the harder it gets because every time she has to see the defendant, she has to relive the trauma that has happened to her,” says Sara.

Attorney Ryan Poe-Gavlinski is a UW Law professor and practicing attorney who represents young victims in court.

“My first reaction was, wow, this is old,” says Poe-Gavlinski.

She’s not involved in this case, but after reviewing it she thinks time is up; it should be closed by now.

“When you weigh all the factors, the rights of the accused, the rights of the victim, I do think its too long,” says Poe-Gavlinski.

So long, she says, the verdict could be impacted, especially when a minor is involved.

“A child has a way of naturally trying to suppress bad things that happened to them to heal. If your victim, being your star witness, if there are any issues of not remembering, that’s going to effect how a jury will see something,” explains Poe-Gavlinski.

Poe-Gavlinski says drawing out a case and wearing down a victim in the process can be a strategy used by defense attorneys.

“It makes you question the outcomes of cases and how things are really progressing and if it really is a just system,” says Poe-Gavlinski.

Catherine Dorl is a head public defender overseeing cases in Wisconsin’s South Central region, including Sauk County.

“I would ask people to think about what they would want if they were in that position, a rush to convict or a fair and just trial?” says Dorl.

Dorl does not represent the accused in Sara’s daughter’s case. She is speaking with NBC15 Investigates in general terms only.

“There’s just not the capacity in the system to achieve that level of what you might call speedy justice,” says Dorl.

Dorl says things like court scheduling, a change in attorney, the covid-19 pandemic and new evidence are all reasons cases can seemingly last long. She says time passing doesn’t mean the result isn’t just.

“You want to do it once, and you want to do it right. If that means you have to delay it, that’s better than trying to do it when it’s not ready to go,” says Dorl.

According to Wisconsin government data, over the past four years, felony cases typically took 242 days to close in Sauk County. That’s 57 days faster than the statewide average at 299 days. It’s important to note Wisconsin doesn’t track cases that take longer than 721 days to close. A state records keeper says it’s because the vast majority of cases close sooner. Sara’s daughter’s case is now almost 1,300 days old.

Sara’s daughter is getting help from the Sauk County Victim Witness Program. She works with trained specialists who talk her through the court process and over mental support to keep her fighting.

The trial date is now set for November 2021. It was set on the exact same day NBC15 Investigates’ Elizabeth Wadas visited Sauk County to try to talk with lawyers and to dig into this case at the courthouse.

The accused’s defense attorney would not go on camera but in a statement says, in part, his client, the accused, has changed attorneys twice and that took time to get lawyers up to speed. He brings up the pandemic delaying the case further. And he also points his finger at the District Attorney’s office, who is prosecuting the case, saying a late submission of DNA evidence pushed the trial back. NBC15 Investigates has reached out to Sauk County District Attorney Mike Albrecht four times to get a comment. Albrecht says his office will not comment on an open case in order to maintain its integrity.

Something notable found in the court documents is that a jury trial was set for back in March of 2021. But then the defendant withdrew their right to a speedy trial, essentially resetting the trial date for a later time. The State objected to that, but the judge sided with the defense and granted that motion.

No matter how slow the wheels of justice continue turning, Sara says it’s time for justice.

“That’s my baby that got hurt, my flesh and blood. You don’t give up on your children. I will never give up on my child. My child deserves justice. She deserves to have closure,” says Sara.

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