Editorial: Let awful case play outEvery year in St. Louis County, attorneys see about 30 cases involving sexual assault and children. That’s a sad fact and it’s daunting to think of the county attorneys who have to handle these most difficult of cases.
Every year in St. Louis County, attorneys see about 30 cases involving sexual assault and children. That’s a sad fact and it’s daunting to think of the county attorneys who have to handle these most difficult of cases.
These crimes are all too common, and now we find an alleged case in our own back yard as school bus driver and Two Harbors resident Jimmy James was charged in Duluth Monday with four felony counts for actions with riders on his North Shore Community School route.
The rate of cases in St. Louis County doesn’t differentiate the nature of the crimes. This one is particularly troubling because a child’s bus driver is in a position of power. Children are expected to trust them, as are parents and the public, as the school district puts children in that employee’s care.
If there is any comfort in the case that has shocked Lake County residents this past week, it’s the experience of those prosecuting attorneys. They will get it right if there is a case and they will do so with the upmost care for the innocent children involved. Those sentiments come from Leslie Beiers, a senior assistant St. Louis County attorney in Duluth.
That said, we must also acknowledge the defense in this case, just as adamant of James’ innocence.
We’d like to think that the taboos around sexual assault have eased over the years. We’ve strived to make victims feel less shameful and more willing to speak out about the heinous crimes committed against them. We have also learned about allowing children the freedom to not be afraid to tell parents about incidents. And, as we learned from some horrendous cases in the 1980s, the courts have worked to streamline the process in which children report their accounts, an effort to prevent false accusations.
St. Louis County faces a battle brought to light in Minneapolis last month when Hennepin County declined to take on a molestation case, citing a Supreme Court decision that restricts the use of taped interviews of children in court. The interviews are used to keep children out of the spotlight in court, where they are often too young to be competent to testify.
In 2004, the Supreme Court decided defendants have a right to confront accusers. It means attorneys have to make the case aside from test-imony from children.
There may have been a hint at that Monday when St. Louis County attorney Nate Stumme suggested in a discussion about the bail amount that there may be adult victims who may come forward to talk about abuse in the past. He said at least one woman has come forward naming James.
Defense attorney Joanna Wiegert said the prosecution is on a “fishing expedition and trolling for victims.”
Without further details from Stumme, you can understand Wiegert’s frustration. But let’s hope the attorney rhetoric stops there, with the bail amount settled and James released until another court date in May.
We can’t lose sight that innocence all around is at stake here.
That counts for anyone accused of a crime before their right to a trial.
And for the children in this case, we can only hope for a restored trust and return to normalcy, their own right to innocence.